Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by a 15-man hit squad at the kingdom’s consulate in October last year.
Turkish officials said that Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was strangled and dismembered. His remains are yet to be found.
Here is what we know about the Saudi investigation into the murder that triggered an international outcry.
A total of 31 people were investigated in connection with Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi prosecutor’s office said, without identifying them.
Of the 31 suspects, 21 were arrested and 10 others were called in for questioning, it said. Eleven people were indicted and went on trial at the Riyadh criminal court.
Diplomats from the UN Security Council’s permanent members –- Britain, China, France, Russia and the US –- as well as Turkey were allowed to attend the trial as observers.
Death penalty for five
The prosecutor’s office said five people were handed the death penalty “for committing and directly participating in the murder”.
It added that three others were given various prison sentences amounting to a total of 24 years “for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law”.
Callamard said audio transcripts from the scene of the crime showed the Saudi agents involved referring to Khashoggi as a “sacrificial animal”
It said charges were dismissed against three of 11 indicted individuals after they were declared “not guilty”.
The public prosecutor said its probe established that the murder was not pre-meditated and was carried out in the heat of the moment. The killing had previously been labelled a “rogue” operation.
“An important step” or “a mockery of justice”? A Saudi court sentenced five people to death in Khashoggi’s killing but the verdicts failed to dispel questions. #Khashoggi #SaudiArabia pic.twitter.com/0ApXxy3W3N
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) December 24, 2019
Top aides let off
Significantly, two top aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were exonerated after the trial, with the public prosecutor citing a lack of evidence.
They are former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri, who is lionised in military circles as a war hero, and the royal court’s former media czar Saud al-Qahtani.
The prosecutor’s office said five people were handed the death penalty “for committing and directly participating in the murder”
They were both sacked following the murder but only Assiri went on trial. The United States last year slapped economic sanctions on 17 Saudis, including Qahtani, over the Khashoggi murder.
The US Treasury said Qahtani was “part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing” of Khashoggi. Qahtani has not appeared in public since the murder and his whereabouts are unknown.
Crown Prince under the scanner
The Saudi prosecutor’s office has sought to distance Prince Mohammed from the murder. The crown prince told public broadcaster PBS this year that he accepted responsibility for the killing, because it happened “under my watch” — but he denied having prior knowledge.
But Agnes Callamard, a UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said her independent probe found “credible evidence” linking him to the murder.
The American CIA also reportedly concluded that the prince, who controls all major levers of power in the Saudi government, likely ordered the killing.
#Khashoggi court update;
• Saudi court sentenced 5 to death, three others to be imprisoned for 24 years (preliminary not final)
Here’s the full story of Jamal Khashoggi’s murderhttps://t.co/ygafhHQn3D
— Luis (@2536luis) December 24, 2019
A physical altercation after Khashoggi entered the consulate led to him being “forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death”, the Saudi prosecutor’s office has previously said.
It said his body was then dismembered, “transferred outside the consulate” and handed over to a “collaborator”. What was done with Khashoggi’s remains afterwards is still unknown.
Callamard said audio transcripts from the scene of the crime showed the Saudi agents involved referring to Khashoggi as a “sacrificial animal”.
Saudi operatives involved in the killing were also heard joking and talking about dismemberment before his arrival at the consulate, according to secret tapes heard by UN investigators.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk.