Update (5:00 pm ET): As the Saudis prepare to pin Khashoggi’s murder on “rogue killers”, just as President Trump had advised, the office of Turkey’s attorney general has leaked the first findings from Turkish prosecutors’ search of the Saudi consulate to Al Jazeera (a news organization that his financed by Qatar, a geopolitical nemesis of the Kingdom, which took place on Monday, nearly two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared.
In addition to reportedly discovering evidence that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate, Turkish investigators also found “evidence of tampering” – suggesting that the Saudis tried to cover up the crime. Though it may have been a coincidence, a team of professional cleaners was spotted entering the consulate early Monday.
A source at the Attorney General’s office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera “they have found evidence that supports their suspicions that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate,” our correspondent Jamal Elshayyal reported from Istanbul.
“This is a significant step forward after several days of an impasse,” he said.
The Attorney General’s office also said their team inside the consulate found evidence of “tampering”, Elshayyal added.
Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that Saudi Arabia is preparing to admit that Khashoggi was killed as the result of an interrogation that went wrong, citing two unnamed sources.
One source cautioned that a report was still being prepared and could change, CNN said. The other source said the report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved will be held responsible, the news outlet said.
Considering that Saudi Arabia is effectively a Medieval Theocracy that still beheads hundreds of people every year via sword, we imagine the men who actually killed Khashoggi (and according to Turkish flight records, they were almost certainly men) must be feeling pretty anxious right about now.
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If you anticipated that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – having been backed into a corner by Turkish spooks who had bugged the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate – would swiftly seek to blame the death of regime insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi on some unfortunate underling, then congratulations. You were right.
Just hours after a spokesman for the regime revealed that the ailing King Salman had ordered an independent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance – a revelation that was effectively the first hint that the Saudis might soon be forced to admit that they played a role in it after repeatedly insisting on their story that he had left the consulate shortly after he arrived on Oct. 2 – CNN is reporting that the kingdom is planning to announce that Khashoggi’s death was “an accident” and that he died during an interrogation at the consulate as Saudi officials had been attempting to rendition him back to Saudi Arabia.
Of course, Trump had warned that there would be “severe consequences” if the Saudi government was found to have ordered Khashoggi’s killing – a claim that immediately elicited a threatening response from the kingdom, which hinted that it could “weaponize” oil prices if the US dares to pursue sanctions against it. Pinning the killing on a negligent underling (despite numerous reports that the order had been handed down by MbS himself) is probably the easiest way to defuse what has metastasized over the past week into a full-blown diplomatic crisis. We imagine MbS is also hoping to nip speculation that the Khashoggi incident could lead to him being removed as Crown Prince – though it’s never been clear who is even in a position to remove MbS, as the Crown Prince has spent the last two years consolidating power and marginalizing (or eliminating) rivals. And if the leaked details of the killing, details that have reportedly been culled from a clandestine recording made by Turkish intelligence, are, in fact, accurate, then it’s difficult to imagine how Khashoggi being dragged out of an interrogation room, murdered and then chopped into pieces could have happened by accident. CNN added that, while the report hasn’t been finished, according to a draft, those who were responsible for the killing will be “held accountable.”
While Saudi Arabia has already threatened to “weaponize” oil (via an editorial published by House of Saud-aligned Al Arabia) CNN felt it important to ask, could they also “weaponize” their Treasury holdings?
The answer: Probably not. While Saudi Arabia owns more Treasury debt than economies like France and India (an almost inevitable result of oil wealth) it’s still only the tenth largest holding, with just under $167 billion.
Saudi stocks slumped on the report:
Earlier on Monday, President Trump had dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to get to the bottom of the situation. He probably hasn’t arrived yet. We imagine we’ll hear more about the Saudis’ position shortly after he arrives, if not before. Of course, the notion that “rogue killers” (or “rogue operatives” as the WSJ described them) were responsible for killing Khashoggi was first floated this morning by President Trump, who clarified that this theory was merely speculation on his part. The fact that this now appears to be the story that the Saudis are going with is certainly interesting, to say the least.
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