Leaked Saudi documents show that the assassination squad that killed Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi flew to the Turkish city of Istanbul on private jets owned by a company under the full control of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a report says.
Citing official documents labeled "Top Secret" and signed by a Saudi minister, the CNN reported late on Wednesday that the ownership of the company Sky Prime Aviation had in 2017 been transferred to Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which is the country's $400-billion sovereign wealth fund, and the company's planes were later used in the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi.
The sovereign wealth fund is controlled by the Saudi royal family and is chaired by the 35-year-old crown prince.
The fact that the planes were owned by a company under the control of the Saudi crown prince "provides another link between Khashoggi's death and MBS," CNN said, using Mohammed's initials to refer to him.
In October 2018, and after Khashoggi's murder, The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, had reported that the private jets used by the assassins belonged to a company controlled by Mohammed.
"He would have been tracking [the company] and would've been aware of how it was used," Dan Hoffman, the former director of the CIA's Middle East Division, said of the Saudi crown prince.
"It's just more potential evidence that he was in the know on this. Which has always been the contention. This is just more evidence of that," Hoffman said, referring to the widespread belief that Mohammed personally ordered the assassination in Turkey.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for Khashoggi's former fiancée and a nonprofit organization, which have filed a federal lawsuit against MBS and two dozen co-defendants, told CNN that his client was "pleasantly surprised" that evidence of bin Salman's control over Sky Prime Aviation has come to light.
"Any evidence that basically ties MBS and others, especially in a direct line way — which we believe this does — is extremely important," said Gill.
"[MBS] wanted to use a company that he controls, in a fund that he absolutely controls in hopes that it would not get out," Gill added. "That to me is not only a direct line to him killing Jamal but also a direct line of him trying to cover it up using an aviation company that he absolutely has full control of."
The Wednesday revelation comes as the US intelligence community is set to release a long-awaited report with new public details about those behind the murder of Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic of bin Salman, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, after he entered the perimeter to collect documents for his planned wedding. He had been falsely promised the documents.
The dissident journalist was strangled and his body was cut to pieces by a 15-man Saudi hit squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials.
Saudi Arabia has not produced his remains as of yet.
Saudi officials initially denied the killing of Khashoggi altogether, but they later said a “rogue” group had assassinated him.
The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist, reported in November 2018 that the CIA had concluded that bin Salman personally ordered the murder.
Khashoggi's killing damaged the ties between Ankara and Riyadh, and tarnished Mohammed's image.
Agnes Callamard, the outgoing special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing for the United Nations, who investigated the Khashoggi murder, has said targeted sanctions against the personal assets and bank account of MBS ought to be ordered as a "minimum" if intelligence showed the crown prince had ordered or incited the killing.
She has also called on the administration of US President Joe Biden to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia to identify the location of the remains of the slain journalist, allow Khashoggi's children to leave Saudi Arabia, and, if evidence shows the crown prince ordered the assassination, freeze the prince's diplomatic engagements with Washington.