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Saudi Crown Prince Distances Himself From Khashoggi Case, Calling It a ‘Heinous’ Killing

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday denounced the “heinous crime” committed against Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist killed in Turkey by Saudi operatives. It was his most public attempt yet to separate himself from the men suspected of killing Mr. Khashoggi, who include some of the crown prince’s own aides.

The 33-year-old crown prince’s comments, made during a panel discussion at an opulent investor conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, came as the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Turkey soured further over the Oct. 2 killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and as Saudi Arabia’s economic and political ties with the West are increasingly at risk.

But Crown Prince Mohammed insisted that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were working together to bring those who committed the killing to justice.

“The crime was really painful to all Saudis and I believe it is painful to every human in the world,” he said in Arabic, according to a simultaneous translation. “It is a heinous crime that cannot be justified.”

A Saudi-Turkey split, he said, “will not happen, and we will prove to the world that the two governments are cooperating to punish any criminal, any guilty person, and justice in the end will appear.”

Some of the crown prince’s close subordinates have been implicated by Turkish officials in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post columnist.

Western intelligence officials have said the killers would almost certainly not have acted without instructions from the crown prince, considered the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi royal authorities insisted for weeks that Mr. Khashoggi had left the Istanbul consulate the same day he visited. It was only this past Saturday that the Saudis admitted he was killed inside the building, describing it as an accident.

Turkish officials have said they have evidence that shows a team of Saudi assassins killed Mr. Khashoggi within minutes of his entry to the consulate, dismembered his body and then tried to cover it up — even using a Saudi agent who resembled Mr. Khashoggi and left the consulate wearing the victim’s clothes to create a fictitious trail.

Even President Trump, a close ally of the Saudi royal family, has said he is skeptical of the Saudi explanations for what happened and has called the cover-up “one of the worst.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said that ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia would be damaged if the crown prince had been dishonest with him.

“Certainly it would be a very bad thing in terms of relationship,” Mr. Trump said. “It would take a while to rebuild.”

In a speech before Turkey’s Parliament on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Saudi government of having planned the “savage murder,’’ and demanded punishment “to the highest levels.’’

Intrigue surrounding the prince’s appearance on a panel at the investment conference was amplified by a fellow panelist, Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon, who nearly a year ago was detained in Saudi Arabia, apparently on the orders of the crown prince.

The strange circumstances surrounding Mr. Hariri’s visit back then caused an international stir, but the two men appear to have made amends since Mr. Hariri’s release.

Mr. Hariri did not address the incident, instead focusing his remarks on the development of Lebanon’s economy. But Crown Prince Mohammed sought to joke about it.

“His Excellency Prime Minister Saad is staying for two days in Saudi Arabia,” the crown prince said, “so I hope that rumors don’t start that he’s been kidnapped.”

Mostly, the crown prince used the appearance to tout what he described as his country’s rich and glorious future.

“I don’t think that there is any challenge before the great Saudi people,” he said. “All of our projects are proceeding, reform is proceeding, our war on extremism is proceeding, our war on terrorism is proceeding, developing the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is proceeding. No matter how they try to stop our efforts, we won’t stop.”

Also on the panel, which was focused on economic development in the Middle East, was Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain, a close Saudi ally.

Crown Prince Mohammed was feted with an ovation as he entered the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton hotel, where business leaders from around the world have converged to network and make deals — even though many canceled last week, citing the stigma of the Khashoggi scandal.

The standing-room-only audience saluted the crown prince with their cellphones when he arrived, straining to capture the moment with pictures.

Throughout the day, bankers and business executives at the conference, known as the Future Investment Initiative, wondered whether the prince would actually make an appearance, which was added and then mysteriously disappeared from the conference’s online agenda.

Despite the uproar, the conference hummed along on its second day, with discussions focused on capital markets, sovereign wealth funds and investing in Saudi Arabia’s emerging technology sectors.

Organizers sought to impress guests by flying a remote-controlled drone in the foyer of the Ritz’s convention hall. Attendees lunched on chicken biryani and lamb chops with white beans, taking breaks between bites to exchange contact details by tapping their electronic name tags.

Saudi officials in attendance tried to keep the focus off Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and on their big plans for the kingdom.

“It was a tragedy and a very shocking moment for all for all of us, and I think everyone has to make the decision for themselves,” said Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, who had just given a talk about her work with the Saudi sports authority.

“There are 33 million people in this country who are trying very hard to move this country forward, and we have a very clear vision,” she said. “This is why we are telling people to take the initiative to invest in our future.”

Source: NYT > World

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