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Saudi embassy helps nationals suspected of crimes in US evade justice: Report

Saudi embassy uses a network of 'fixers' and lawyers to help citizens accused of crimes leave the US, Washington Post investigation finds
US lawmakers have been raising concerns about the Saudi embassy's alleged role in helping fugitives (AFP/File photo)

The Saudi embassy in Washington has been involved in helping Saudi citizens accused of crimes in the United States flee the country and evade jail time by using a network of "fixers" and criminal defence lawyers, an investigation by the Washington Post has revealed.

US lawmakers have complained that many Saudi students left the United States while facing criminal charges with the apparent help of Riyadh.

On Tuesday, the Post published a report documenting links between Saudi suspects who fled the country and the kingdom's embassy in Washington.

According to the investigation, many Saudi citizens facing serious charges, including murder and possession of child pornography, have been able to leave the United States without facing sentencing. 

The Post's investigation focuses on the case of Abdullah Hariri and Sultan Alsuhaymi, who were accused of fatally stabbing a man during a brawl in Greenville, North Carolina, in 2018. They were charged with first-degree murder but left the country without standing trial - before the indictment was even formalised.

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The report cites a knowledgeable source as saying that the Saudi embassy arranged the departure of Hariri and Alsuhaymi from the country.

The United States and Saudi Arabia do not have an extradition agreement.

"The embassy's preference is that no one spend time in jail in the US," an anonymous source who worked for the embassy's network told the Post. "And if a case has mandatory jail time, there’s a lot of pressure to get them out of the country."

Tens of thousands of Saudi students study in US universities on government-sponsored scholarships.

According to the Post's report, the Saudi embassy's role in helping the kingdom's citizens who are in legal trouble goes far beyond the usual consular assistance that diplomatic posts usually provide.

An embassy document shared with the Post shows that one official is "in charge of procuring airline travel, chauffeured ground transportation and hotel accommodations for Saudis in the United States".

In one case, the official instructed an embassy driver to take a Saudi fugitive to the Dulles Airport in the Washington area to flee the country.

"If the Saudi Embassy decides to spirit someone out of the country, there’s a facilitator, someone not connected to the embassy, to arrange travel," said one source.

US-Saudi ties

US lawmakers have been pushing for accountability from Saudi Arabia over its alleged assistance for fugitives.

"We urge you to do what the Trump administration would not: impose consequences on the Saudis for their indefensible behavior," senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in February. 

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The issue of fugitives is one of many areas where Saudi Arabia has been facing criticism in Congress, since the assassination of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi late in 2018.

President Joe Biden has vowed to "reassess" Washington's relations with Riyadh. He has ended US support to Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen.

Still, the US administration says it remains committed to Saudi Arabia's security. In a sign of improving ties, Washington and Riyadh released a joint statement on Wednesday on combating climate change.

"The United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are committed to addressing the increasing climate challenge with seriousness and urgency," the statement said, which came after a visit by US climate envoy John Kerry to Saudi Arabia. 

"They will work to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement and actively promote a successful G20 in Italy and COP 26 in Glasgow. "