A Saudi royal adviser fired over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is not among the 11 suspects on trial at secretive hearings in Riyadh despite Saudi pledges to bring those responsible to justice, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters news agency.
The Saudi public prosecutor indicted 11 unnamed suspects in November, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of “ordering and committing the crime”.
Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to MBS until he was sacked then sanctioned by the US Treasury over his suspected role, is not on trial and has not appeared at any of the four court sessions convened since January, according to seven sources who are familiar with the proceedings but have not attended the trial.
Two regional intelligence sources told Reuters that weeks after the killing Qahtani oversaw Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment by giving orders via Skype to a team of security and intelligence operatives.
The Saudi public prosecutor said in November that Qahtani had coordinated with the deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had become a vocal critic of the crown prince’s policies following years as a royal insider.
The prosecutor said Qahtani had met the operatives charged with Khashoggi’s repatriation before their journey to Istanbul. When Khashoggi resisted, the lead negotiator decided to kill him, according to the prosecutor.
Asiri is on trial, the seven sources told Reuters.
Three of the sources said that Maher Mutreb, the lead negotiator, and Salah Mohammed al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert who specialised in autopsies, are also on trial and could face the death penalty.
The sources said the defendants have legal counsel and have defended themselves in court by claiming they did not intend to kill Khashoggi or were merely carrying out orders.
The public prosecutor, the government media office, Qahtani and Asiri did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the trial. Reuters could not reach Mutreb, Tobaigy or any of the defendants’ lawyers.