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Khashoggi: Pro-democracy group serves Saudi crown prince with murder complaint

Lawsuit seeks compensation for damage caused to journalist's fiancee and US-based Democracy for the Arab World Now
Saudi Arabia denies that Mohammed bin Salman had any role in Khashoggi's murder (AFP)

The fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the pro-democracy organisation he established say they have served Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a legal complaint over his death.

The US-based Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn) said the complaint said the prince and Saudi officials "acting in a conspiracy and with premeditation, kidnapped, bound, drugged and tortured, and assassinated [Khashoggi]". 

Dawn said the lawsuit, filed in the US, seeks relief for the "severe pain and suffering and significant damages" to Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, as well as for interrupting his contract with the organisation, which he had been heading until he was killed.

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Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye columnist and prominent critic of the Saudi government, was murdered and dismembered inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, after going there to get documents for his wedding to Cengiz.

"While MBS may have evaded sanctions by our government for his role in the murder, he won't evade prosecution by our judicial system for the damage he has caused us and Cengiz," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Dawn.

A statement from Dawn said the judge had approved alternative methods of serving the complaint to the crown prince, commonly referred to as MBS, including through WhatsApp messaging and the media. 

"We look forward to seeing MBS in court and finally obtaining discovery of all of the evidence - including who knew what, when, in our own government - implicating MBS and his co-conspirators in this vicious crime," said Whitson.

'Acting head of state'

Turkey is trying 26 Saudi suspects in absentia, including the former deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, and bin Salman's former media aide, Saud al-Qahtani, who are accused by prosecutors of leading the operation. 

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden defended the decision not to sanction the crown prince, despite the release of a US intelligence report that identified bin Salman as responsible for the murder. 

"We held accountable all the people in that organisation - but not the crown prince, because we have never that I'm aware of, when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracised him," Biden said, according to a partial transcript released by ABC.

Biden's statement contradicts previous assertions by the White House that King Salman is the US president's counterpart and MBS is not the head of state in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia denies that bin Salman had any role in Khashoggi's murder.

The plaintiffs in Dawn's case against the crown prince and other Saudi officials are represented by former US ambassador Keith Harper and Faisal Gill.

"This lawsuit seeks not only to hold MBS and other senior Saudi Arabian officials accountable for Jamal's murder, but also to put the Saudi government and other abusive governments on notice that they will pay a price for such extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists," said Gill.