Prince Mohammed’s lawyers argue PM title ensures legal immunity

Published October 5, 2022
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 14, 2021. — Reuters/File
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 14, 2021. — Reuters/File

RIYADH: Lawyers for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have argued that his appointment as prime minister qualifies him for immunity from lawsuits in US courts, including one related to the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed, who previously served as deputy prime minister and defence minister, was named prime minister by royal decree last week, sparking concern from human rights activists and government critics that he was looking to skirt exposure in cases filed in foreign courts.

His lawyers had previously argued that he “sits at the apex of Saudi Arabia’s government” and thus qualifies for the kind of immunity US courts afford foreign heads of state and other high-ranking officials.

Last week’s royal decree “leaves no doubt that the Crown Prince is entitled to status-based immunity”, his lawyers said in a filing on Monday in a case brought in 2020 by Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

The 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider turned critic, in the country’s Istanbul consulate temporarily turned Prince Mohammed into a pariah in the West.

But he has been welcomed back on the world stage this year, notably by US President Joe Biden, who travelled to Saudi Arabia in July despite an earlier pledge to make the country a “pariah”.

Last year, Biden declassified an intelligence report that found Prince Mohammed had approved the operation against Khashoggi, an assertion Saudi authorities deny.

The Biden administration has yet to weigh in on whether it believes Prince Mohammed qualifies for immunity.

A judge had given US lawyers a deadline of Oct 3 to file a “statement of interest” on the question.

But on Friday, citing Prince Mohammed’s new position, the administration requested an additional 45 days to make up its mind.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022

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