RIYADH (Middle East Eye) – A U.S. judge has asked the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration for its view on whether Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) should be granted sovereign immunity in a civil case brought against him in the U.S. by Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist murdered by Saudi agents in Istanbul 2018.
John Bates, a district court judge, gave the U.S. government until 1 August to declare its interests in the case or else inform the court notice that it has no view on the matter, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.
The administration’s decision could have a major impact on the civil case and comes as President Biden is facing criticism for abandoning a campaign promise to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” state over the killing of Khashoggi.
The U.S. president is due to meet the heir apparent to the Saudi throne later this month when he makes his first trip to Riyadh since entering the White House.
The civil complaint against MBS, filed by Cengiz in the federal district court of Washington DC in October 2020, alleges that he and other Saudi officials acted in a “conspiracy and with premeditation” when Saudi agents kidnapped, tortured and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Khashoggi, a former Saudi insider who had fled the kingdom and was a resident of Virginia, was a vocal critic of MBS and seeking to counter Saudi online propaganda at the time when he was murdered.
After years of inaction against MBS by Donald Trump, who was president when Khashoggi was killed, the Biden administration moved to release an unclassified U.S. intelligence report in 2021, shortly after Biden became president, that concluded MBS was likely to have ordered the murder of Khashoggi.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report said.
“We base this assessment on the crown prince’s control of decision-making in the kingdom since 2017, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Mohammed bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the crown prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” it added.
The U.S. intelligence assessment pointed out that bin Salman’s aides could not have murdered Khashoggi without the crown prince’s blessings.
Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 to obtain documents he needed to marry Cengiz. He was killed and dismembered in the consulate and his remains were never found.