The fiancée of slain Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi has filed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in a U.S. court charging that the kingdom’s de facto ruler ordered the killing.
The civil suit, which names more than 20 Saudi co-defendants in seeking unspecified compensation, is the latest legal action against one of America’s closest Middle East allies. It also adds to Riyadh’s challenges in moving past an episode that drove a wedge between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western allies.
The case was brought Tuesday jointly with Democracy for the Arab World Now, a U.S.-based nonprofit set up to promote human rights and the rule of law that Mr. Khashoggi founded while living in self-exile in Washington.
Mr. Khashoggi, a former royal insider who criticized Prince Mohammed’s policies in Washington Post columns, was killed and his body dismembered by Saudi agents during a 2018 visit to the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate where he was seeking papers needed to marry Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen.
The Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the crown prince likely ordered the killing. The prince has denied that, but said that as de facto leader he bears ultimate responsibility for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
“I am hopeful that we can achieve truth and justice for Jamal through this lawsuit,” Ms. Cengiz said. “Jamal believed anything was possible in America and I place my trust in the American civil justice system to obtain a measure of justice and accountability.”
A separate lawsuit filed in August by a former senior Saudi counterterrorism official alleged that the crown prince sent a hit squad to Canada to try to kill him two weeks after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Both claims were made under a law authorizing suits against individuals who commit torture or extrajudicial killing under the authority of a foreign government.
An attorney for Ms. Cengiz, Keith Harper, said their legal team seeks a court ruling that Prince Mohammed and the other defendants are responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, and want the disclosure of evidence related to it.
The U.S. court complaint—which seeks unspecified monetary damages—represents an effort to maintain public scrutiny of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.
A Saudi court last month handed down final sentences to eight low-ranking officials, repealing death sentences after Mr. Khashoggi’s eldest son pardoned his killers. The public prosecutor declared the case closed, but the decision hasn’t silenced calls for accountability, including from influential members of Congress who have mulled a broad re-evaluation of the decades-old U.S.-Saudi alliance.
While President Trump has expressed support for Prince Mohammed after the Khashoggi killing, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been more critical of the 35-year-old royal leader. On the second anniversary of Mr. Khashoggi’s death this month, he said Mr. Khashoggi’s loved ones deserve accountability and pledged to reassess Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, including ending support for its war in Yemen.
Still, the U.S. lawsuits are expected to face challenges over immunity and jurisdiction, and are unlikely to get far so long as the defendants remain outside the country, legal experts say. Entering the U.S. could put them within the reach of U.S. courts, so the lawsuits may force Prince Mohammed to steer clear of visiting the U.S. within the decadelong statute of limitations.
“If you define success only as a final enforceable damages judgment, these cases are a long shot,” said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas who specializes in the prosecution of war crimes. “But if success is just increasing the specter of accountability for human-rights violations…it’s far better than nothing.”
Write to Stephen Kalin at [email protected]
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