US Judge Consults White House on Khashoggi's Saudi Price Prosecution Ahead of Biden's Riyadh Visit

© AP Photo / Bandar AljaloudIn this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.
In this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.07.2022
The US president claimed that he will make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" during election campaign. His comments referred to the alleged involvement of its crown prince in the killing of Saudi-born US journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Biden is due to visit the kingdom this month amid a dire need for it and other regional partners to boost oil output.
US District Court Judge John Bates has issued a request for the White House to weigh in on a criminal case filed against Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his alleged involvement in the murder of Saudi-born US journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The judge has also requested that Washington comment on whether the monarch should enjoy sovereign immunity due to US national interests.
The criminal case was filed by the Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul over his criticism of bin Salman. While the kingdom's investigation showed that the murder was committed by a rogue group of security agents, Cengiz insists that the crown price was involved. Her opinion is backed up by a US intelligence agency assessment released by Biden in the early days of his presidency which reaches the same conclusion.
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However, the court case comes as Biden organizes an official visit to Saudi Arabia later this month. Washington is seeking increased oil extraction by OPEC nations and principally Saudi Arabia in order to bring down domestic fuel prices.
Judge Bates gave the White House until 1 August to elaborate on its interests in this case or to notify him that no interests exist. He also highlighted attempts by the prince’s lawyers to dismiss the case on the grounds that the US court lacks jurisdiction over bin Salman due to his Saudi title.
"In the court’s view, some of the grounds for dismissal advanced by [the] defendants might implicate the interests of the United States; moreover, the court’s resolution of defendants’ motions might be aided by knowledge of the United States' views," the judge said.
The court specifically inquired whether Washington finds grounds for applying a so-called act of state doctrine, which limits the US from prosecuting foreign leaders and the actions of other states in domestic courts. Whilst being valid, the doctrine contradicts a 1991 law that allows US citizens to press charges against foreign states and leaders in domestic courts if they believe that US laws or their rights have been violated.
Should appeals to dismiss the case be rejected and the White House not intervene, the first hearing against bin Salman is to be held on 31 August.
For her part, the plaintiff Hatice Cengiz insists that the US government should let the case proceed. President Joe Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" state over the killing of the journalist during his election campaign, however neither the White House nor Biden has reacted to the judge's request at the time of writing.
The crown prince denies being involved in the journalist’s assassination, but said he took responsibility for his subject’s actions.
FILE PHOTO: The Committee to Protect Journalists and other press freedom activists hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Saudi Embassy to mark the anniversary of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.12.2021
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Riyadh had initiated trials over the murder’s alleged perpetrators, later reporting that all had been punished. However, Cengiz and critics of the Saudi regime decried the trial as a "sham", insisting that bin Salman was guilty as well. No evidence directly linking him to the Saudi operative’s actions has been made public.
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