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Khashoggi murder tape will never be made public: Turkish source

Saudi's top prosecutor meets counterpart in Istanbul as Turkey demands 'whole truth' of journalist's killing
A security guard stands at the entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on Monday (Reuters)

Turkey will never make its recordings of Jamal Khashoggi's murder public, a government source told Middle East Eye, because they were made secretly and in contravention of international law.

Instead, Turkey is placing the onus of officially revealing the details of the journalist's assassination on Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate on Riyadh.

On Monday, as the Saudi prosecutor met with his Turkish counterpart in Istanbul, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Riyadh to release the "whole truth" behind Khashoggi's killing.

Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and critic of the kingdom's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was murdered on 2 October by a hit squad of 15 Saudis sent to kill him.

Turkish sources who have listened to the audio recording of Khashoggi's death have told MEE that the Washington Post columnist was tortured, murdered and dismembered after entering the consulate to obtain divorce papers. 

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The existence of the audio recording of Khashoggi's murder has long been touted as a crucial piece of evidence held by the Turkish government.

However, a government source told MEE on Monday that the tape would never officially be made public because the recording was obtained through "intelligence work" and could therefore not be used as legal evidence.

Diplomatic missions such as the Saudi consulate in Istanbul are protected under the Vienna Convention, meaning Turkish spying on the building would be unlawful.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the United Nations' human rights chief have both said the extreme circumstances of the Khashoggi murder should be grounds enough to strip the consulate and its workers of diplomatic immunity, in order to facilitate the best possible investigation.

Erdogan notably made no mention of the audio when addressing parliament on the case last week, in a speech he had promised would reveal the "naked truth". Video recordings of the murder are also reported to exist.

A Turkish intelligence source confirmed the existence of the audio tape to MEE but couldn’t confirm or deny how it was obtained. The source added that it couldn’t officially confirm or deny that they had played it to any foreign official, including the Saudis.

Turkish media and the Washington Post have reported that the audio has been played to Gina Haspel, the director of the CIA.

Prosecutors face off

Saud al-Mujeb, Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor, met with Istanbul's chief public prosecutor Irfan Fidan on Monday morning and held a private 75-minute meeting at the city's Caglayan Courthouse. Mujeb was also expected to visit the consulate.

According to sources close to the investigation, Mujeb told his Turkish counterpart that the Saudis do not know where the journalist's body is, reiterating an earlier claim by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

The whereabouts of Khashoggi's body is a key question in the Turkish investigation. MEE understands that the Turkish prosecutor has enough evidence to charge the 15 Saudis in the hit squad with murder, but is waiting for Khashoggi's remains to be recovered to issue his report.

Turkish sources have told MEE that Khashoggi was cut into 15 pieces and that the dismemberment began while he was still alive.

According to MEE's sources, Turkish investigators believe part of Khashoggi's body was flown to Riyadh with Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, a Saudi suspect and bodyguard of MBS, on the day of the murder.

As those who committed the murder are in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has a very large responsibility

- Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

The Saudis insist that the body was handed to a local collaborator to dispose of.

However, a source at the Istanbul prosecutor's office told MEE that investigators were "considering the possibility of a Saudi misdirection". The source said that searches had been made in Belgrad Forest and in the town of Yalova - two areas where Khashoggi's body was suspected of being buried - but said no evidence was found.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, Cavusoglu warned Saudi Arabia against dragging its heels with the investigation.

"The cooperation must continue, but it must not be drawn out or turn into a diversion. The investigation must be completed as soon as possible, so that the whole truth is revealed," he said.

As the Saudis insist on keeping the suspects, Cavusoglu said, they must then help produce the body. It is understood the Saudis have not released the identity of the alleged local collaborator.

"As those who committed the murder are in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has a very large responsibility," Cavusoglu said.

According to MEE's sources, the Saudi prosecutor gave his Turkish counterpart testimony from 18 suspects arrested in Saudi Arabia. Erdogan has demanded that they be brought to Turkey to face trial. Jubeir said over the weekend they will remain in Saudi Arabia.

In the meeting of the two prosecutors, Fidan told Mujeb that the Turkish investigation will not cease until three questions have been answered: Where is the body? Who is the local collaborator? And who ordered the murder?