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Turkey: Khashoggi’s fiancee appears at absent Saudis’ trial

UPDATED: Fri., July 3, 2020

By Suzan Fraser and Robert Badenbieck Associated Press

ISTANBUL — The fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi told a Turkish court Friday that the Washington Post columnist was lured to his death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul through “a great betrayal and deception,” and she asked that all persons responsible for his killing be brought to justice.

Hatice Cengiz spoke at the opening of the trial in absentia of two former aides of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and 18 other Saudi nationals who were charged in Turkey for Khashoggi’s grisly slaying. The journalist’s 2018 killing at the consulate sparked international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over the prince.

The 20 Saudi defendants all left Turkey, and Saudi Arabia rejected Turkish demands for their extradition. Some of the men were put on trial in Riyadh behind closed doors. The proceedings were widely criticized as a whitewash. Khashoggi’s family members later announced they had forgiven his killers.

The trial in Turkey is being closely watched for possible new information or evidence from the killing, including the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains.

Khashoggi, who was a United States resident, had walked into his country’s consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, for an appointment to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee. He never walked out.

“He was called (to the consulate) with great betrayal and deception,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Cengiz as testifying.

“I am making a complaint about everyone who knew about the incident and about everyone who gave the order,” said Cengiz, who waited for Khashoggi outside the Istanbul consulate when he went there to obtain the documents and alerted authorities when he failed to come out.

Yasin Aktay, a prominent politician from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and a friend of Khashoggi’s, told the court that the slain journalist felt safe in Turkey despite reports of “operations by Saudis against dissidents abroad.”

Aktay also testified that he alerted Turkey’s intelligence chief, among other officials, after Khashoggi failed to emerge from the consulate after five hours. He said the intelligence chief responded, “I wish he hadn’t gone in,” according to Anadolu.

The court also heard testimony from six local Turkish employees of the Saudi Consulate. Five of them said they did not see Khashoggi,. One said he had a brief conversation with the journalist when Khashoggi first entered the building but did not see him again after that.

The trial was adjourned until Nov. 24 to await several actions, including an Interpol response to correspondence concerning Turkish requests for the suspects’ arrests, Anadolu reported.

Turkish prosecutors have demanded that the defendants be sentenced to life terms in prison, if convicted.

The Turkish prosecutors have charged the prince’s former advisers, Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Asiri, with “instigating a premeditated murder with the intent of (causing) torment through fiendish instinct.”

Prosecutors are also seeking life prison sentences for 18 other Saudi nationals charged with carrying out “a premeditated murder with the intent of (causing) torment through fiendish instincts.”

A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate. They included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers and individuals who worked for the crown prince’s office.

Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw. Turkey, a rival of Saudi Arabia, apparently had the Saudi Consulate bugged and has shared audio of the killing with the CIA, among others.

Prior to his killing, Khashoggi had written critically of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in columns for the Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia had initially offered shifting accounts about Khashoggi’s disappearance. As international pressure mounted because of the Turkish leaks, the kingdom eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed by rogue officials in a brawl.

Turkish prosecutors say the suspects “acted in consensus from the beginning in line with the decision of taking the victim back to Saudi Arabia and of killing him if he did not agree.”

Riyadh had insisted that the kingdom’s courts are the correct place for the suspects to be tried and put 11 people on trial over the killing. In December, five people were sentenced to death while three others were found guilty of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison.

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in May, Khashoggi’s son announced that the family pardoned the killers, giving legal reprieve to the five government agents who were sentenced to death.

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