Riyadh has requested that the Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman be shielded from a US lawsuit accusing him of sending a death squad to kill Saad Aljabri, a former Saudi spymaster.
The US administration is weighing a request to grant legal immunity for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from a lawsuit, which accuses him of sending a hit squad to kill dissident Saad Al Jabri, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
The Saudi government has requested Washington that MBS should be protected from liability in a case filed by Saad al Jabri, a deputy to former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then Minister of the Interior.
Al Jabri was once a key point man between Saudi intelligence services and Western agencies, and he is credited with stopping terrorist attacks, including one on synagogues inside the US, earning him the respect of American intelligence officials.
“A license to kill”
In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, Al Jabri claims that a 50-person Saudi kill team was sent to assassinate him in 2018, almost two weeks after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.
The Post said that the US State Department sent a questionnaire to Al Jabri’s lawyers last month, asking for their legal opinions on whether it should grant the Saudi request.
Al Jabri’s eldest son Khalid told the Post if given, the US would essentially be granting MBS immunity for conduct that succeeded in killing Jamal Khashoggi and failed to kill his father.
“Lack of accountability is one thing, but allowing impunity through immunity is like issuing a license to kill.”
One last favour
A State Department recommendation could also lead to dismissal of Muhammed Bin Salman as a defendant in other cases filed in the US, including one accusing him of orchestrating the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and of targeting a hack operation to discredit Al Jazeera anchor Ghada Ouesis for her criticism of the kingdom.
US government lawyers will be required in February to submit arguments in two separate lawsuits related to the Khashoggi case, brought under the Freedom of Information Act by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
The lawyers have been prevented disclosure of relevant documents on national security grounds so far.
US President Donald Trump has been a staunch supporter of MBS. However, his days at the Oval Office are counted. And US President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement on the anniversary of Khashoggi's murder in October, saying the journalist and his loved ones “deserve accountability”.
“We will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil… Jamal’s death will not be in vain, and we owe it to his memory to fight for a more just and free world,” the statement said.
The US State Department’s recommendation of immunity is binding on US courts and it usually seeks advice from other agencies before issuing it, the newspaper reported.
A quick decision can be made for a head of state, or take months or years. As another option, the Trump administration can ignore it, and deny the request.
Jabri’s lawyers are supposed to reply to the questions until the beginning of January. They are expected to assert that MBS is a prince, not the head of the state, so he should not be granted any legal immunity.
Al Jabri, 61, has been described as the "black box" of Saudi Prince Muhammed bin Nayef.
He is believed to hold the secrets of the ruling royal family. He worked for four decades in the Saudi Interior Ministry. In the last 20 years, he served as a security adviser to Bin Nayef and together they attempted to reform the intelligence service.
After Nayef was removed from his royal position by MBS, Al Jabri left Saudi Arabia for Canada with a fear of ill-treatment by the Saudi authorities.
He openly opposed Saudi Arabia's involvement in the Yemen war that has been underway since 2015. The Saudi government had detained Saad al Jabri’s two adult children and brother in March to try to force his return to the kingdom.
The government also sought his extradition via Interpol, citing corruption charges, but the organization rejected the Saudi request as they saw it as a “politically motivated move”.
A US court in August issued an order to summon Mohammed bin Salman and 12 other Saudi officials, who were accused of masterminding the attempted assassination of Al Jabri.
In one WhatsApp message, the lawsuit showed, MBS told Al Jabri: “Don’t force me to escalate things and take legal measures, as well as other measures that would be harmful to you.”