Fresh information has surfaced connecting the Saudi crown prince to the 2018 murder in Turkey of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi as the Biden administration prepares to release a classified intelligence report on the operation.
Top secret Saudi documents cited by CNN have revealed that two private jets used by the Saudi assassination squad to reach Istanbul were owned by a firm seized on the orders of crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and transferred to the kingdom's $400 billion public investment fund controlled by him.
The documents authorising the transfer of Sky Prime Aviation were signed by its then chief executive Salem Almuzaini, who was allegedly kidnapped from Dubai, tortured and disappeared during the crown prince's anti-corruption campaign in late 2017.
Riyadh has long orchestrated forced repatriations. Human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was snatched from Dubai in May 2018 and spent almost three years in jail up to her release on February 10th – reportedly ordered to make a favourable impression on the Biden administration, which has pledged to tackle human rights abuses.
According to a UN report on the Khashoggi affair, the two aeroplanes carrying 13 passengers landed on October 2nd shortly before the journalist’s killing and dismemberment in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The hit squad reboarded the aircraft and left at different times that evening, returning to Riyadh by different routes.
While the crown prince has denied involvement in the assassination, his confidant Saud al-Qahtani was dismissed from service and tried for organising the operation. He was acquitted but five other accused were given death sentences, which were commuted, and another three received lengthy prison sentences.
UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard described the trials of the men as "the antithesis of justice" and a "mockery". She said on Wednesday the world will no longer able to ignore incriminating evidence the US intelligence report may provide.
The Trump administration, which assiduously courted the Saudis, shelved the report. Other leaders who initially shunned the crown prince soon re-established relations.
US president Joe Biden could use leverage provided by the report to press King Salman to rein in his impetuous, ambitious favourite son. While launching welcome social and economic reforms, prince Mohammed has arrested hundreds of critics and opponents and waged a deadly, destructive war on Yemen.
Mr Biden has begun recalibrating relations with the kingdom by halting US logistical support for the Yemeni war, suspending arms sales and calling for an end to the conflict.
Having made courtesy calls to a number of world leaders, Mr Biden turned to business in his first contact with an Arab leader. In conversation with Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, he discussed repeated militant attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone housing the US embassy and recent rocket strikes on the airbase hosting US soldiers and contractors at Irbil in Kurdish northern Iraq.