The Trump administration is considering a Saudi application to grant immunity to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from prosecution on allegations that he orchestrated a conspiracy to kill a former senior Saudi official, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The State Department law firm is reviewing the application and will present its findings to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who would make a recommendation to the Department of Justice, said the person who asked not to be identified in order to discuss ongoing litigation. The lawsuit against Prince Mohammed was filed in federal court in Washington in August.
Saudi Arabia wants the US to act before January 20, when President Donald Trump leaves office and Joe Biden – who has pledged a tougher stance on the kingdom – becomes president, the person said. The grant of immunity could also deal a fatal blow to a separate case in which the Crown Prince is accused of assassinating Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The current case accuses the Crown Prince of using agents in the US to track down Saad Aljabri, a former senior official who worked with US intelligence, and then dispatching a team to assassinate him. Aljabri’s lawsuit alleges that a team of Saudi killers flew to Canada to murder him but was stopped by border officials.
Aljabri said in the lawsuit that he had received confidential information about Prince Muhammad’s “covert political intrigues within the Royal Court” as well as his business relationships and his role in creating a team of activists to kill Khashoggi. Saudi officials have accused Aljabri of corruption, alleging that his family dismissed it as politically motivated.
“Urgent Political Favor”
The Saudi Embassy in Washington and the government’s Center for International Communications did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. The Saudi government’s lawyers did not reply either. The Washington Post previously reported that the State Department is weighing the request for immunity.
The State Department press office did not respond to a request for comment, but a spokesman in the past said Aljabri was a respected and valued partner in the fight against terrorism, whose work saved American and Saudi lives. Aljabri’s legal team declined to comment.
Aljabri’s family said the immunity decision should not be rushed.
“The decision to grant MBS immunity should go its right way, even if it falls into the hands of the Biden administration,” said Khalid Aljabri, Saad Aljabri’s son, using an acronym for the Crown Prince. “This shouldn’t be a hasty political favor. The granting of MBS immunity results in absolute impunity and he will use it as a US-issued license to kill.”
It is not yet known if Pompeo will act as part of the transition to the Biden administration next month before leaving.
Trump made close ties with Saudi Arabia at the heart of his administration’s Middle East policy by downplaying Khashoggi’s killing and hastening arms sales to the kingdom. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner developed a close relationship with the Crown Prince and consulted regularly with him as he developed a peace plan for the Middle East.
Biden, who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” during his election campaign, has announced that he will reverse Trump’s approach, although he also said Saudi Arabia must remain a key ally. Both Republican and Democratic Congressmen have criticized the president’s support for Prince Mohammed.
Under normal circumstances, legal experts say the US government would be cautious about making a recommendation in such a case until it gets further.
“It is unusual for the government to consider these issues early in the case,” said Brian Egan, partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP and legal advisor to the State Department under former President Barack Obama. “Usually the state and judiciary hesitate to get involved in these cases before they reach the appeals court.”
– With the support of Vivian Nereim.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)