A demonstrator holds a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL
A demonstrator holds a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL

Riyadh — Saudi Arabia has begun an internal investigation into the disappearance of a prominent journalist at its Istanbul consulate and could hold people accountable if the evidence warrants it, according to a Saudi official.

At the weekend, King Salman ordered the Saudi public prosecutor to investigate the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, partly due to information received from Turkish authorities, the Saudi official said on Monday. He spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorised to discuss the matter. While Saudi Arabia and Turkey have already said they would co-operate in a joint investigation, this would be a separate inquiry, the official said.

After gathering information from the Turks and the joint team, “the feeling from the leadership was we needed an internal investigation to make sure we’re getting the right story here,” the official said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the Saudi leadership, was last seen entering the consulate on October 2. Turkish authorities have said he was killed there, a claim that Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied. In an interview the day after the disappearance, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he believed that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after entering.

The incident is threatening to spark a geopolitical crisis as the US and Turkey demand answers from Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom vows to retaliate against any punitive measures imposed over the critic’s fate. The Saudi response triggered speculation the world’s biggest exporter of oil may break with decades-old policy by using its crude as a political weapon.

The Saudi government’s Center for International Communication did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Khashoggi’s vanishing, and the grisly allegations of his murder by Saudi authorities, are testing close ties between the Trump administration and its key Arab ally. After President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he could take action against Saudi Arabia if the allegations proved true, the country threatened to use its economic clout to retaliate.

It has also spooked major foreign investors, several of whom have withdrawn from the prince’s flagship investment conference in Riyadh later in October.

The US administration increasingly regards Saudi Arabia’s denial of any involvement in the journalist’s disappearance as untenable, and Trump and his aides are more and more convinced that he died after entering the consulate, according to three US officials who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Marriage document

The Saudi prosecutor has received instructions “to work quickly,” so an announcement could happen within days, the Saudi official said.

Khashoggi has been a US resident since he went into self-imposed exile in 2017 over fear he could be arrested in Saudi Arabia. Once a government adviser, he had grown increasingly distant from the kingdom’s new leadership under King Salman. Despite being worried for his safety, he had gone into the consulate in Istanbul to get a document necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee, his fiancee and friends have said.

Bloomberg

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