Turkey slams Saudi Khashoggi verdict as 'far from' justice

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - The decision announced by the Saudi court "is far from meeting the expectations of both our country and the international community to shed light on the murder with all its dimensions and deliver justice," the foreign ministry said in a statement. 

Ankara also said key aspects of the murder including the whereabouts of Khashoggi's body were "left in the dark", which the ministry said was a "fundamental deficiency" in terms of accountability. 

The 59-year-old Washington Post contributor was killed in the kingdom's Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, by a 15-man Saudi squad who strangled him and cut his body into pieces.

His remains were never found. 

A Saudi court on Monday sentenced five people to death over the murder, handing three others long jail sentences and acquitting the remaining three charged in the case, while two top figures were exonerated.

"It is not only a legal but also a conscientious responsibility to shed light on this murder committed in our territory and to punish all those responsible," the Turkish foreign ministry said. 

It repeated Turkey's expectation of judicial cooperation from Saudi authorities.  

Turkey's ties with Saudi Arabia came under strain after the brutal murder, which tarnished the international reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Shortly after the verdict, Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said justice was "trampled" on with the death sentence meted out to five Saudis for the murder.

The group's secretary general, Christophe Deloire, tweeted that the sentences "can be interpreted as a means to permanently silence the suspects, a way to prevent them from speaking to better cover up the truth."

The trial, which had taken place behind closed doors, "did not respect international standards of justice," he said, adding: "Justice has been trampled on."

"The opacity of the procedure and the concealment of evidence does not allow us to get an idea" of why several others were convicted or acquitted, said Deloire, insisting: "We still expect a full accounting."

"The court issued death sentences on five men who directly took part in the killing," the prosecutor said in a statement.

"We found that Khashoggi's murder was not premeditated," Saudi deputy general prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan told a press conference.

Exonerated

Two senior aides to Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been exonerated of the crime, the court ruled.

No evidence was reportedly found against Saud al-Qahtani, who was removed from his role as a top adviser to the crown prince in the aftermath of the murder, according to Shalaan Shalaan, the deputy attorney general.

Dubbed the "Saudi Steve Bannon", Qahtani was a brutal media enforcer for Mohammed bin Salman, masterminding the arrest of hundreds of the country's elite and orchestrating the detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

He was a royal adviser to Mohamed bin Salman until he was sacked in October, a move that was widely seen as an attempt to scapegoat Saudi officials and cover up Prince Mohammed's likely role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

According to intelligence sources, Qahtani ran the brutal killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate via Skype.

A Turkish intelligence source said in October that Qahtani told his men to dispose of Khashoggi. "Bring me the head of the dog", the Turkish intelligence source says Qahtani instructed.

Around 11 messages were sent between Qahtani and the crown prince roughly at the time of the journalist's brutal murder, according to the CIA.

Earlier this year, a Turkish prosecutor demanded that arrest warrants be issued for Qahtani and Ahmad al-Assiri, who he described as being "among the planners" of Khashoggi's murder.

But the court on Monday found Alassiri, a top intelligence official who was also removed from his position, not guilty.

Khashoggi was a longtime royal court insider and editor at state-linked newspapers in Saudi Arabia who described himself as worried by the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He had criticised the prince in his last job as a Washington Post columnist.

His dismembered body has not been found.

Saudi Arabia initially offered multiple shifting accounts about Khashoggi's disappearance. As international pressure mounted, the kingdom eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed by rogue officials in a brawl inside the consulate.

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