Turkey is nearing the end of the Khashoggi murder trial with no conclusion

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey on Friday came another step closer to transferring the trial over the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, a decision that would see the latest case rights groups hoped would see some measure would bring about justice would effectively kill a horrific crime that shook the world.

Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has expressed support for the transfer requested by Saudi Arabia, which has never recognized the legitimacy of the Turkish process. Saudi leaders have said they consider their own trial, which concluded more than two years ago, to have the final say on the matter, although rights groups roundly dismissed it as a fraud.

The final decision on the transfer is expected to be made by the court at its next session on April 7th.

The assassination of Mr Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018 exacerbated already strained relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the end of Turkey’s trial could ease recent efforts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to tighten ties with Saudi Arabia and its crown prince and de facto improve ruler Mohammed bin Salman.

On Thursday, the prosecutor in Turkey’s trial recommended moving it to Saudi Arabia, as the Saudis had requested. Around the same time as his recommendation, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a television interview that the government was taking important steps to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.

“Everyone sees that relations are currently stagnant,” he said. “Steps are being taken to revive that and in the period ahead I can say concrete steps are being taken.”

Mr Khashoggi was a prominent journalist who fell out with his government and moved to the United States, where he wrote columns in the Washington Post criticizing the Saudi crown prince and his plans to reshape the kingdom. Mr Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was collecting paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz.

His body was never found.

Prince Mohammed has insisted he had no prior knowledge of the assassination plot. However, the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that he had given the green light to the operation to assassinate or capture Mr Khashoggi.

That trial reinforced the Saudi narrative that Mr Khashoggi’s death was the result of a rogue operation without the oversight of senior officials. The Saudis never named those convicted, and a United Nations expert dismissed the trial as the “antithesis of justice.”

The Turkish trial, which opened in 2020, was largely symbolic as the 26 suspects, all Saudi nationals, were tried in absentia and Turkish law does not normally allow for a conviction in such circumstances. Saudi Arabia had refused to extradite the suspects for trial.

The Turkish prosecutor in the trial on Thursday recommended that Turkey grant a Saudi request to transfer the case to Saudi Arabia because none of the suspects were in custody and arrest warrants could not be executed.

However, should the trial end without a conclusion, it will still come as a deep disappointment to those who had hoped it might bring some small measure of justice to the murder, or at least release more evidence of how the crime happened.

Ms. Cengiz said in a twitter post on Thursday that Turkey faces a choice between the “virtuous” course of action and “putting material interests above all kinds of values”.

Human rights groups criticized the decision of the Turkish Ministry of Justice.

“Shipping the case from Istanbul to Riyadh ends the hopes for justice that the whole world owes to Khashoggi,” said Erol Onderoglu, Reporters Without Borders’ Turkey representative.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have long been rivals for leadership of the Islamic world, and the kingdom resisted Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s political Islamists and pro-democracy movements during the Arab Spring uprisings that swept across the region in 2011.

After Mr Khashoggi’s murder, Mr Erdogan and his aides leaked details about the murder to keep it in the news and humiliate Prince Mohammed, sending relations between the two countries to a new low. Finally, an unofficial Saudi boycott drastically reduced the flow of Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia.

In recent months, however, Mr Erdogan has spoken of improving ties with Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, in hopes better ties will help Turkey recover from an economic crisis it has been dealing with left inflation at 50 percent.

So far, Mr Erdogan seems to have had better luck with the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally he visited in February.

“Our positive dialogue with Saudi Arabia continues and we await progress through concrete steps in the coming period,” Mr Erdogan told reporters upon his return to Turkey. “We want to move this process with Saudi Arabia in a positive direction.”

While Turkish and Saudi ministers visited each other’s countries, a trip to the kingdom that Mr Erdogan had planned for February never took place.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, Lebanon and Safak Timur from Istanbul. Turkey is nearing the end of the Khashoggi murder trial with no conclusion

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