US State Department is considering immunity for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a lawsuit accusing him of attempting to have a former Saudi intelligence official assassinated.
In August, Saad al-Jabri, a longtime aide to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Crown Prince dispatched a hit squad to Canada, where al-Jabri lives in exile, and that border officials prevented them from entering the country, according to American media reports.
Al-Jabri alleges the men were sent to kill him within days of the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudi government filed an Interpol notice asking other countries’ law enforcement to arrest and extradite al-Jabri, accusing him of corruption and using his office to enrich himself.
A major line of defence submitted by Crown Prince Mohammed’s lawyer, Michael Kellogg, in a motion to dismiss the claim filed on December 7, 2020, was that, as a world leader, the prince was immune from prosecution.
“The immunity of foreign officials from suit in the United States is governed by the doctrine of common-law foreign sovereign immunity,” Kellogg wrote in the 69-page filing.
In November, State Department officials requested information from al-Jabri’s lawyers on their views on Riyadh’s immunity request for Crown Prince Mohammed, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.
It remains unclear whether the department will ultimately recommend immunity, or whether a decision will be made before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.
President Donald Trump is known to have a positive relationship with the Crown Prince and has publicly expressed skepticism that he ordered Khashoggi’s killing, despite the conclusion of several international intelligence agencies.
Trump also vetoed a resolution that passed Congress with bipartisan support calling for the U.S. to end its backing of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.
Biden, in contrast, has been a vocal critic of the Crown Prince and pledged to end U.S. support of the war as president.
Al-Jabri’s son Khalid told the Times that he fears Riyadh would view any immunity as carte blanche to make further attempts on his father’s life.
“It’s a really dangerous thing,” he told the newspaper. “It will be the equivalent of giving a US-issued license to kill.”
A State Department spokesperson told The Hill newspaper that the department does not comment on pending litigation.