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MBS invites Turkey to search consulate for missing Saudi journalist

In interview with Bloomberg, Saudi crown prince insists missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi left Saudi consulate
'My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour,' bin Salman said (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Riyadh is willing to allow the Turkish authorities to search its consulate in Istanbul, where dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is suspected to have gone missing.

Khashoggi's whereabouts has been unknown since he visited the consulate to obtain personal documents on Tuesday.

Despite Turkish assertions that the journalist is still inside the consulate, bin Salman insisted that Khashoggi left the building before his apparent disappearance.

"My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour," he said in an interview with Bloomberg published on Friday. "I'm not sure. We are investigating this through the foreign ministry to see exactly what happened at that time."

He went on to tell the US business publication that the consulate has "nothing to hide".

"We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises. The premises are sovereign territory, but we will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do. If they ask for that, of course, we will allow them," he was quoted as saying.

Asked if Khashoggi is facing any charges at home, bin Salman would not say whether the journalist is wanted by the Saudi authorities.

"If he’s in Saudi Arabia, I would know [if he is facing charges]," he said.

On Friday, the journalist's supporters gathered in front of the consulate in Istanbul to demand his release.

Yemeni activist and 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Tawakkol Karman slammed Saudi authorities at the gathering, telling the AFP news agency she believed Khashoggi "was kidnapped in this gangster's den that is supposed to be a consulate".

Meanwhile, the Washington Post, to whom Khashoggi was a contributor, left a blank slate on its Opinion page to draw attention to his disappearance. Underneath a photo of Khashoggi, a headline read simply: "A missing voice".

Contradictory statements

Since Khashoggi went missing, several Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi did not leave the consulate.

"The information we have so far is that the Saudi journalist is still in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul," Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, told MEE on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's official news agency SPA released a statement saying Saudi Interpol had arrested and extradited a citizen abroad for financial fraud.

Bin Salman told Bloomberg that the person referenced in that statement is not Khashoggi.

Protestors hold pictures of Khashoggi in front of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, 5 October (AFP)
The crown prince led a purge against businessmen and fellow royals last year, detaining dozens of powerful figures for alleged corruption until they agreed to financial settlements.

In November 2017, the Saudi authorities also reportedly held Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri under house arrest.

Both Hariri and Riyadh denied the reports, but European officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, confirmed the prime minister was detained by the Saudis.

While bin Salman has led a modernisation campaign to counter the kingdom's image as an ultraconservative society led by a repressive government, rights groups say a crackdown against human rights activists has escalated under his watch.

Trump remarks a 'misunderstanding'

In a wide-ranging interview, bin Salman said US President Donald Trump's comment that Saudi Arabia would only last two weeks without Washington's support is "not accurate".

But he labelled the remarks as a "misunderstanding".

Washington Post decries 'missing voice', as Khashoggi's disappearance continues
Read More »

"Well, you know, you have to accept that any friend will say good things and bad things," he said.

"So you cannot have 100 percent friends saying good things about you, even in your family. You will have some misunderstandings. So we put that in that category.

"We believe that all the armaments we have from the United States of America are paid for, it's not free armament.

"So ever since the relationship started between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, we've bought everything with money," he said.

The crown prince also dismissed reports that Saudi Arabia is cancelling the planned sale of state oil company Aramco, pledging instead that an initial public offering (IPO) of shares in the company will be available by 2021.

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