Federal judge upholds Washington's stance that the Saudi crown prince enjoys immunity as a foreign head of state
A Washington federal judge has dropped a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MBS, over his alleged involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a decision on Tuesday, the court ruled that the prince was entitled to immunity as a foreign head of state.
In a 25-page ruling, Judge John Bates admitted, however, that he was reluctant to throw out the lawsuit filed by Khashoggi's fiance as it contained "credible allegations" against MBS. The judge explained that he had no choice but to dismiss the case as his hands were essentially tied after the crown prince was appointed as the prime minister of Saudi Arabia and US President Joe Biden granted him sovereign immunity in a court filing submitted last month.
"Despite the Court's uneasiness, then, with both the circumstances of bin Salman's appointment and the credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi's murder, the United States has informed the Court that he is immune," Bates wrote.
Prince Mohammed was appointed as the head of the Saudi state in September by royal decree from his father King Salman, nearly four years after Khashoggi was brutally killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in the Gulf state's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. US intelligence services determined that the assassination was personally ordered by MBS who had already been the kingdom's de facto ruler for several years.
The prince has admitted that the murder happened "under his watch," but has denied having any involvement, far less ordering or approving it. In 2020 a Saudi court jailed eight people over the killing, sentencing them to between seven and 20 years in prison.
Khashoggi, a journalist, and activist based in the United States was a fierce critic of the Saudi government and had written numerous scathing articles about the prince and his family for the Washington Post.
His gruesome murder put a significant strain on US-Saudi relations, as holding MBS and his government accountable for the killing became a major talking point for Joe Biden during his presidential campaign in which he promised to make the prince a "pariah" on the international stage.
Although Biden's administration did later declassify the CIA's report on the killing, he was ultimately slammed for "capitulating" to the Saudi government after he failed to introduce any sanctions against the prince and was caught on photo fist-bumping him during a visit to the kingdom in July.