Saudi Arabia asks Trump to declare Bin Salman immune from federal lawsuit

Crown prince accused of dispatching agents to kill exiled senior Saudi official in Canada


Saudi Arabia has asked the Trump administration to declare crown prince Mohammed bin Salman immune from a federal lawsuit charging him with dispatching agents to Canada to kill an exiled senior Saudi intelligence officer who could divulge classified material harmful to the prince.

He has rejected the accusation and argued that he is immune from prosecution as head of state.

However, it is his father, King Salman, who holds this position, although the crown prince is de facto ruler.

As a close supporter of the crown prince, US president Donald Trump has refused to censure him over the arrest of hundreds of domestic critics as well as the murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The complaint was brought by Saad al-Jabri, the right-hand man of prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was appointed crown prince in April 2015 after King Salman took the throne, but was ousted in a palace coup in June 2017, prompting Mr Jabri to flee the kingdom.

Before his downfall, Mr bin Nayef was regarded by western governments as the kingdom’s most effective security official and the architect of its successful anti-terrorism drive. Over 15 years, he and Mr Jabri frequently consulted with opposite numbers in the US, Europe, the Arab world and elsewhere.

Mr bin Nayef was held incommunicado at home until March this year when he, his half-brother and uncle were imprisoned and charged with treason. At the same time Mr Jabri’s adult children, Sarah and Omar, were seized from their home in Riyadh and disappeared in an apparent effort to force their father to remain silent or return to the kingdom.

Human rights abuses

Mr Jabri has issued his suit against the crown prince under US statutes, which permit foreign nationals to lodge cases alleging human rights abuses. The 106-page complaint charges the crown prince with ordering the assassination of Mr Jabri by a special unit called the Tiger Squad because he possesses “damning information” on the disruption of the royal succession as well as corruption.

Mr Jabri argues that the crown prince dispatched the squad to murder him just two weeks after Khashoggi’s killing.

There is concern that if Mr Trump tells the state department to intervene, the crown prince will never be held accountable for the murder of Khashoggi, human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia or violations of international law during the war in Yemen.

The Saudis may have appealed for intervention too late in Mr Trump’s turbulent term. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes over on January 20th, has condemned Khashoggi’s killing and said he will “reassess” the US relationship with Saudi Arabia.