Riyadh: A Saudi court sentenced five people to death for the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi, a killing that strained relations with key allies, but didn’t have enough evidence to incriminate two top officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Three out of 11 who stood trial for last year’s murder at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul were given a total of 24-year prison terms, according to a statement read out at the public prosecutor’s office on Monday. The court found three others not guilty. It didn’t identify any of who were convicted.
Saud al-Qahtani, removed from his role as a top adviser to Prince Mohammed after the killing, was interrogated but no evidence was found against him, according to Shalaan Shalaan, the deputy attorney general. Ahmed Alassiri, a top intelligence official also removed from his position, was found not guilty by the court.
The verdict will likely do little to mute criticism in the U.S. Congress of the kingdom and its powerful crown prince, who has repeatedly denied that the assassination was carried out on his orders. President Donald Trump has defended Prince Mohammed, shielding the kingdom against any major retaliation by lawmakers.
A prominent Saudi journalist and government insider, Khashoggi never considered himself a dissident. But in 2017, as a crackdown on domestic dissent under Prince Mohammed intensified, Khashoggi fled, fearing he could be detained. He settled in the U.S., penning a series of critical columns for the Washington Post.
Shalaan told reporters that the court has found no evidence that the murder was premeditated, contradicting conclusions by Turkish authorities and Western intelligence services.
The prosecutor will “study the verdict and look into filing an appeal,” according to a statement.
A report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard found that Saudi agents were recorded discussing how to dismember Khashoggi’s body several minutes before he had entered the consulate, referring to him as a “sacrificial lamb.”
Khashoggi, 59, went to the Saudi consulate to obtain paperwork for his marriage. He was killed by a team of government agents that lay in wait for him. His body was never recovered.
Saudi officials initially said Khashoggi had left the Istanbul consulate on his own, then claimed he died in an interrogation gone awry. A stream of leaks from Turkish intelligence officials repeatedly undermined the Saudi attempts to explain away the death.
The trial began in January. Nine sessions were held before Monday’s sentencing, according to al-Shaalan. Representatives of the Turkish government, Saudi human rights groups and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were allowed to attend, but the media had been banned from covering the trial.
(An earlier version was corrected to remove reference to 11 being found guilty.)
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