Judge dismisses lawsuit against Saudi prince over Khashoggi killing

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled that Crown Prince Mohammed is entitled to head-of-state immunity, deferring to the determination made last month by the State Department.

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018 on Crown Prince Mohammed’s order, U.S. intelligence determined. Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, filed suit against the crown prince in U.S. court in 2020.

In the wake of the State Department’s determination, Cengiz has argued that Crown Prince Mohammed, who was made Saudi prime minister just days before the U.S. government was set to file its statement of interest in the case, sought to manipulate the court.

However, Bates chose to defer to the federal government’s mid-November determination, noting that the executive branch is responsible for foreign affairs and any other decision would “unduly interfere” with its responsibilities.

“Despite the Court’s uneasiness, then, with both the circumstances of bin Salman’s appointment and the credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, the United States has informed the Court that he is immune, and bin Salman is therefore ‘entitled to head of state immunity … while he remains in office,’” Bates said in Tuesday’s filing.

The State Department similarly expressed misgivings about Khashoggi’s murder in its determination last month that Crown Prince Mohammed was legally immune.

“In making this immunity determination, the Department of State takes no view on the merits of the present suit and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” the department said in a court filing.

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