Khashoggi fiancée sues Saudi crown prince in US court

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The fiancée of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has filed a lawsuit in the United States against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials aiming to hold the de facto leader of the kingdom responsible for the writer’s death.

“I want the truth,” Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “We know who is responsible, but we want the whole truth and we want accountability.”

“I asked the United States government a nation that has stood for justice, accountability and human rights I ask that you stand with me and all those who love Jamal and say, we will support your efforts to fully uncover the truth and ensure that those responsible are found liable in a court of law,” she added.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, seeks monetary damages, the amount of which would be determined by a jury.

But Faisal Gill, one of the lawyers representing Cengiz and co-plaintiff Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said the goal “first and foremost” is to use the discovery process to get documents, recordings and other evidence they believe the Saudi, Turkish and U.S. governments have, as well as have a court of law hold Prince Mohammed liable for the death.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi government, was killed and dismembered in 2018 by a hit squad while at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for a marriage license with Cengiz.

The CIA has reportedly concluded Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, though Saudi officials have denied he had any knowledge of the plot.

Khashoggi’s death prompted international outrage, including calls from U.S. lawmakers in both parties to revisit the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

But the Trump administration has been reluctant to publicly blame high-level Saudi officials for Khashoggi’s murder, with President Trump defending the U.S. relationship with Riyadh as necessary to counter Iran and bolster the U.S. economy with arm sales.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges Prince Mohammed and the 28 other defendants plotted the murder after hacking cellphones of Khashoggi’s associates and learning the journalist founded DAWN to promote democracy and human rights.

“The ruthless torture and murder of Mr. Khashoggi shocked the conscience of people throughout the world,” the lawsuit says. “The objective of the murder was clear  to halt Mr. Khashoggi’s advocacy in the United States, principally as the executive director of plaintiff DAWN, for democratic reform in the Arab world.”

The lawsuit also says the plot was set in motion in the United States when Khashoggi could not obtain a marriage license at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Prince Mohammad told the Saudi ambassador to assure Khashoggi it would be safe to obtain one in Turkey.

The plaintiffs argue the U.S. court has jurisdiction under the Torture Victim Protection Act.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they are prepared for the Saudis to argue the case should be tossed over sovereign immunity but that the doctrine should not apply because Prince Mohammed is not Saudi Arabia’s ruler.

“He is not the king,” Gills said. “He is not the sovereign, he is not the head of state, nor is he the head of government, therefore sovereign immunity doesn’t attach to him at this time.” 

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