Documents filed in a Toronto court provide yet another link between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi just as U.S. President Joe Biden is preparing to release an intelligence report that concludes the kingdom’s de facto ruler approved the killing.
Saudi records, filed in a civil case against a former spy chief exiled in Canada, show that two executive jets used by a Saudi hit squad to assassinate Mr. Khashoggi were owned by a company that less than a year earlier had been transferred to a sovereign wealth fund chaired by the Crown Prince, who is commonly referred to by his initials, MBS.
Marked top secret and signed by a Saudi minister, the documents show the Crown Prince ordered Sky Prime Aviation Services transferred back to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in December, 2017, about nine months before Mr. Khashoggi was murdered.
“According to the instruction of His Highness the Crown Prince,” the minister wrote, according to a translation, “immediately approve the completion of the necessary procedures for this.”
The documents are the first public evidence that ownership of the planes had been moved into the fund. Citing confidential sources, The Wall Street Journal reported in October, 2018, that two of the Gulfstream jets used by the hit squad belonged to a company owned by the Crown Prince.
The documents were filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice as part of a civil suit by 10 subsidiaries of Tahakom Investments Co., which is owned by the Public Investment Fund. The companies allege that Saad Aljabri, who held a cabinet-rank intelligence post under deposed crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, engaged in a massive fraud totalling at least US$3.47-billion.
Among the companies is Sky Prime Aviation Services, which had been run by Mr. Aljabri’s son-in-law. He was apprehended in Dubai in September, 2017, and is now in Saudi custody.
In separate court documents filed last week, lawyers for Mr. Aljabri said the Crown Prince believes he is the source of the Central Intelligence Agency’s conclusion that the ruler ordered the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi. Mr. Aljabri has accused the Crown Prince of sending a hit squad to kill him in Canada just days after Mr. Khashoggi was murdered.
Mr. Biden’s decision to release the report on Mr. Khashoggi’s death signals a shift in U.S.-Saudi relations. Former president Donald Trump paid little attention to Riyadh’s human-rights record, including its military intervention in Yemen. In the weeks after Mr. Khashoggi’s death, Mr. Trump pledged to remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia – despite acknowledging that MBS may have known of the plan to kill the journalist.
The report’s release is expected to coincide with the first phone conversation between Mr. Biden and Saudi King Salman since Mr. Biden became President.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Mr. Biden would speak only with the 85-year-old King, not MBS. She said Thursday that the conversation would happen “very soon” and the director of national intelligence would also release the declassified Khashoggi report.
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden plans to “recalibrate” Washington’s relationship with Riyadh. “There are a range of actions that are on the table,” she said. “There are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability.”
Mr. Biden spoke with King Salman on Thursday. A White House summary of the call made no reference to Mr. Khashoggi or the report. It said the pair discussed United Nations efforts to end the war in Yemen, a U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory from groups backed by Iran, and the release of Loujain al-Hathloul from custody.
Mr. Biden also “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” the summary said.
Mr. Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, and killed by a team of operatives linked to the Crown Prince. They then dismembered his body. His remains have never been found.
Riyadh eventually admitted that he was killed in a “rogue” extradition operation gone wrong, but it denied any involvement by the Crown Prince. Five men given the death penalty for the murder had their sentences commuted to 20 years in jail after being forgiven by Mr. Khashoggi’s family.
Four U.S. officials told Reuters that the declassified U.S. intelligence report – to which the CIA was the main contributor – assessed that the Crown Prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, who had used his Washington Post column to criticize the Crown Prince’s policies. Reuters did not identify the officials.
A classified version of the report was presented to Congress in late 2018, but the Trump administration rejected demands by lawmakers and human-rights groups to release a declassified version.
With reports from The Globe and Mail’s Adrian Morrow and Reuters.
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