The Saudi prince’s lawyers say the title of prime minister grants legal immunity

The Saudi prince’s lawyers say the title of prime minister grants legal immunity


Lawyers for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have argued that his appointment as prime minister qualifies him for immunity from lawsuits in US courts, including one related to the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed, who previously served as deputy prime minister and defense minister, was appointed prime minister by royal decree last week, raising concerns among human rights activists and government critics that he was attempting to sidestep exposure in cases brought in foreign courts.

His lawyers had previously argued that he “sits at the head of Saudi Arabia’s government” and therefore qualifies for the kind of immunity US courts grant to foreign heads of state and other high-ranking officials.

Last week’s royal decree “leaves no doubt that the crown prince is entitled to status-based immunity,” his lawyers said in a filing filed Monday in a case filed by Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz in 2020.

The 2018 assassination of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate temporarily made Prince Mohammed a pariah in the West.

But he was welcomed back onto the world stage this year, notably by US President Joe Biden, who traveled to Saudi Arabia in July despite an earlier pledge to make the kingdom a “pariah”.

Last year, Biden released an intelligence report that found Prince Mohammed had authorized the operation against Khashoggi, a claim Saudi authorities dispute.

The Biden administration has yet to weigh whether it believes Prince Mohammed qualifies for immunity.

A judge had given US attorneys until October 3 to file a “declaration of interest” on the issue.

But on Friday, citing Prince Mohammed’s new position, the government asked for a further 45 days to decide.

This request was granted and the new deadline is November 17th.

The legal threats against Prince Mohammed in US courts go beyond Khashoggi.

He was also named in a lawsuit brought by Saad al-Jabri, a former senior intelligence official who fell out of favor when Prince Mohammed maneuvered to be first in line to the throne in 2017.

That complaint accuses Prince Mohammed of trying to lure Jabri back to Saudi Arabia from exile in Canada – and then, when that didn’t work, of “using a hit squad” to kill him on Canadian soil, a conspiracy that was thwarted when most would -be attackers were turned back at the border.

However, on Friday a judge granted a motion to dismiss the case, saying his court does not have jurisdiction over almost all of the defendants listed by Jabri – a group that includes Prince Mohammed, other Saudi officials and “several US residents”. .

Prince Mohammed’s father, 86-year-old King Salman, has been hospitalized twice this year but he chaired Tuesday’s weekly cabinet meeting, just like the day Prince Mohammed’s promotion was announced.

In July, a group of non-governmental organizations in France filed a complaint alleging that Prince Mohammed was an accomplice in Khashoggi’s torture and enforced disappearance.

They said the charges could be pursued in France, which recognizes universal jurisdiction.

Prince Mohammed has “no immunity from prosecution because, as crown prince, he is not a head of state,” it said.

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