Turkey’s president declared Tuesday that the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul was a “premeditated” act carried out after a large of team of Saudi intelligence, security and forensic personnel suddenly descended on Istanbul.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Saudi officials arrived in Turkey the day before Khashoggi went to the consulate Oct. 2 to do some paperwork for his upcoming marriage. The Washington Post columnist – an outspoken frequent critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – was never seen again, and the Saudi government, after repeated denials, now admits that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in what it terms a “rogue operation.”
Erdogan told Turkish lawmakers that various members of the Saudi team of more than a dozen personnel, including a military general, conducted some kind of survey of a forest near Istanbul and also disabled security cameras around the Saudi consulate before Khashoggi arrived. After his disappearance, the officials abruptly returned to Saudi Arabia.
“Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a very cruel murder,” Erdogan said, adding: “We have all the evidence.”
Turkish officials have alleged that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered inside the consulate. However, Erdogan did not produce the secret audio or video recordings that some officials have said provide proof of how Khashoggi was killed and his body disposed of. The Saudi government says Khashoggi died after a fistfight.
After accusing the Saudis of initially obstructing Turkey’s investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, Erdogan said Tuesday he trusted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pledge to cooperate. But he pointedly did not mention Crown Prince Mohammed, saying that the order to kill Khashoggi must have come from high up within the Saudi government. Erdogan is known to have a dim view of the crown prince and sees him as a rival for influence in the Middle East.
The Turkish leader had promised to reveal “the naked truth” about Khashoggi’s murder but fell short of that with a speech that was not as detailed or as full of new facts and evidence as analysts had expected. He said the Saudis should allow the 18 people named by the kingdom as suspects in the case to be put on trial in Turkey, but Erdogan did not offer much information beyond that already leaked by Turkish officials, especially with regards to whether the “premeditation” could be attributed all the way up to the crown prince.
Erdogan’s statement came on the same day that Saudi Arabia launched its Future Investment Initiative, a high-profile economic forum in Riyadh, the kingdom’s capital, that was to be attended by top officials and executives from around the world. But Khashoggi’s killing prompted U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and top execs from CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox Business, and Viacom to pull out. The forum is the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed, who was also noticeably absent when it started.
The outrage and questions over Khashoggi’s killing are jeopardizing the crown prince’s plans to reshape the Saudi economy and threatening his country’s ability to attract foreign investment. Hollywood and the global entertainment community have been reassessing their ties with Saudi Arabia. London-based exhibitor Vue International has said that its plans to open multiplexes in Saudi Arabia are on temporary hold because of the scandal.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, is an investor in Penske Media Corp., the parent company of Variety.