Turkey initiated a fresh push in the investigation into the death of Jamal Khashoggi on Monday, searching a villa in the northwest of the country and accusing its Saudi Arabian owner of helping to dispose of the murdered journalist's body.
Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said that a member of the hit squad accused of killing Khashoggi had made contact with a Saudi citizen, named as Mohammed Ahmed al-Faozan, the day before the murder.
The latest revelation by Turkish officials is set to increase pressure on the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as he prepares for the G20 summit in Argentina, his first foreign visit since the killing of Khashoggi.
The Turkish prosecutor said that Mr Faozan, who allegedly went by the code name Ghozan, was resident in Turkey and lived in a village in the northwest province of Yalova, about 90km (56 milles) south of Istanbul.
Mr Faozan is alleged to have spoken to Mansour Othman Abahussain, a member of the 15-strong team sent from Riyadh, the day before Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October.
Their conversation was about “destroying or hiding” the journalist’s dismembered body, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Earlier on Monday, Turkish police teams equipped with drones and sniffer dogs searched a large white house, with an entrance flanked by two-storey columns, in Yalova province.
The crisis that unfolded after the journalist's death has put Saudi Arabia under scrutiny not seen since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Prince Mohammed has visited neighbouring Gulf allies in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain this week and he is set to visit Egypt and Tunisia in the days ahead of a trip to Buenos Aires to attend the two-day G20 leaders' summit at the end of this month.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minster, said last week that there was no "obstacle" to a meeting between Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the crown prince on the sidelines of the summit.
Analysts say the trip is a sign that the young prince is not concerned about threats to his power from rival members of the royal family as he still enjoys the backing of his father King Salman.
Riyadh has claimed that Khashoggi, a veteran commentator, was murdered by rogue Saudi agents. The kingdom has arrested 18 people in connection with the killing and is seeking the death penalty for five of the suspects.
Mr Erdogan has rejected Riyadh’s explanations. He has insisted that the order to kill the journalist – who had grown increasingly critical of his country’s rulers over the past year – came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government. Turkish officials say privately that they believe that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.
Saudi prosecutors said the crown prince had no knowledge of the operation.
Ankara has sought to convince other countries of its view that the 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne is responsible. But even amid widespread shock over the murder, Saudi Arabia's international allies have appeared hesitant to sever ties with the world's largest oil producer, which has also positioned itself as a bulwark against Iran.
US president Donald Trump, who is Riyadh's most important western backer, has said that the US relationship with Saudi Arabia would remain "steadfast" despite the killing. Ankara responded angrily to those remarks.
Mr Cavusoglu last week accused Mr Trump of seeking to “turn a blind eye” to murder and vowed that Turkey would “pursue this matter until the very end”.
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018