Turkey cast doubt Wednesday on whether Saudi Arabia was willing to “genuinely cooperate” in the investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as international pressure increased on Riyadh to provide answers.
Seeking to draw a line under a crisis that has brought near unprecedented scrutiny on Saudi Arabia and its powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi had criticised, Riyadh sent the head of its investigation to Istanbul this week.
However a senior Turkish official said Wednesday that Saudi officials seemed “primarily interested in finding out what evidence Turkey had against the perpetrators”.
“We did not get the impression that they were keen on genuinely cooperating with the investigation,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Washington Post contributor, was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork for his upcoming marriage. His body has not yet been found.
After initially insisting Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, then saying he died in brawl, the Saudi government has admitted he was killed by a “rogue operation” and arrested 18 people.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says a 15-person team travelled from Riyadh to kill Khashoggi and has repeatedly called on the Saudi regime to reveal the location of his body and who ordered the hit.
– ‘Truth needs to come out’ –
The case has sorely strained relations between the ultra-conservative kingdom and the West.
France said Wednesday that “not enough” was being done to find those responsible for the murder of Khashoggi, who was an insider in Saudi royal circles before going into self-imposed exile in the United States last year.
“This crime has to be punished and the perpetrators identified. The truth needs to come out,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, who was the first Saudi official to acknowledge that the killing was “premeditated” based on the results of Turkey’s investigation, arrived in Istanbul on Sunday.
He met with Istanbul chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan twice before visiting the consulate on Tuesday.
Mojeb then held talks at the regional head offices of Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency overnight. He has not made a public statement in Istanbul.
Abdulkadir Selvi, a well-connected pro-government columnist for Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, said Mojeb had not been forthcoming with evidence from the Saudi investigation.
“It seems the Saudi prosecutor is trying to obtain the information in the hands of Turkey rather than share the information he has,” Selvi wrote Wednesday.
He also claimed that Mojeb was in pursuit of Khashoggi’s phone, which the journalist handed to his Turkish fiancee before entering the consulate.
That request sparked “uneasiness” on the Turkish side, the columnist wrote, noting that Mojeb also refused to share the testimonies of the 18 suspects.
Ankara has repeatedly called for the suspects to be extradited for trial in Turkey, but Riyadh has rejected the request.
– ‘Shockingly brazen crime’ –
In an editorial published Tuesday, the Washington Post accused Riyadh of “deflecting questions by pretending to investigate” the murder.
It accused the administration of US President Donald Trump “playing along” and “pretending to believe that the Saudis can conduct a credible probe ?- even though a chief suspect is the kingdom’s own autocratic ruler”.
The editorial also urged US Congress to impose sanctions on those responsible — “including, if the available evidence points to him, Mohammed bin Salman ? and reshape US relations with Saudi Arabia”.
Trump has called the case “one of the worst cover-ups in history”, but warned against halting a Saudi arms deal, saying it would harm US jobs.
The affair has tarnished the image the Prince Mohammed, the de facto leader of the oil-rich Gulf nation, who has positioned himself as a reformer.
He has denounced the murder as “repulsive” and strongly denied any involvement.
Meanwhile the search for Khashoggi’s body continues, after gruesome reports in the Turkish media alleged it was cut up into multiple pieces.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday called Riyadh to reveal the body’s whereabouts, saying international experts should help investigate the “shockingly brazen crime”.
Turkish columnist Selvi claimed the prosecutor must know the location of Khashoggi’s body because, he said, the 18 suspects had confessed.
“Why did the chief prosecutor hide this information from the Turkish side?” he asked.
“Because the chief prosecutor is working to save the crown prince by covering up the investigation rather than shed light on the murder.”