Hatice Cengiz tells Judge MBS she is not immune from her lawsuit

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris July 28, 2022 for a meeting with the French President.

The Turkish woman who said she was on her way to get married Jamal Khashoggi before Saudi officials murdered her fiancée in an Istanbul consulate, she urged a judge to reject the US government’s position that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman enjoys sovereign immunity from her suit.

“The Executive Branch may decide to recognize MBS as head of government of Saudi Arabia, but this decision does not compel this court to agree with MBS’ blatant attempt to manipulate the jurisprudence of this court in order to secure impunity for the horrific murder it ordered,” the statement said lawyers for Hatice Cengiz wrote in a 10-page response to the Justice Department on Tuesday.

Salman, known by his initials MBS, claimed that his recent appointment as Saudi prime minister granted him sovereign immunity from Cengiz’s lawsuit aimed at making him liable for Khashoggi’s death. Cengiz argues that Salman’s appointment as the kingdom’s head of government was a hoax to avoid the long arm of the US courts.

“Just six days before the deadline for the United States to comment on the immunity of heads of state, MBS’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, unilaterally amended Saudi Arabia’s Governing Charter and appointed MBS as ‘Prime Minister.'” The letter says: “The King’s Order changed the title of MBS but retained the King’s role as ‘ultimate arbiter’ over all Saudi government agencies.” deliberate attempt was made to manipulate the jurisdiction of this court. There has never been a comparable appointment in the history of international law.”

In a footnote, Cengiz’s lawyers scoffed at the premise that the head of the “absolute monarchy” conferred his status as head of government – or that the country now has two heads of government.

“Each position is both remarkable and SUI generic. Moreover, if the latter, how many heads of government can there be from the United States’ perspective? Can also simply declare King Salman the accused Saud al-Qahtani another ‘prime minister’ and thus a third head of government?” asks the footnote, referring to the former Saudi royal court adviser who reportedly oversaw Khashoggi’s assassination over Skype.

Although the crown prince is the main accused, Cengiz has sued about two dozen others, including al-Qahtani. Salman is the main defendant and, as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, the litigant of most interest to the US government.

Therefore US District Judge John D Bates, who is leading the lawsuit, gave the Justice Department an opportunity to comment on whether bin Salman could claim sovereign immunity. days after the President Joe Biden met with bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, the Justice Department asked for more time to consider the issue, and Judge Bates granted multiple extensions. Bin Salman’s appointment as prime minister came days before the second deadline.

On November 17, 2022, about a month after the fourth anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, the US government affirmed the issue of immunity, declaring that the appointment of Bin Salman as prime minister tied their hands.

“The United States government has expressed grave concern about the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and has expressed those concerns publicly and to the highest levels of the Saudi government,” according to a filing from the Justice Department’s Civil Division specified. “It has also imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions in the wake of and in connection with the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and has sought to promote transparency by releasing the intelligence community’s assessment of the Saudi government’s role in the incident. However, the doctrine of immunity for heads of state is well established in customary international law and has been consistently recognized in long-standing executive branch practice as a status-based provision that does not reflect a judgment of the underlying conduct at issue.”

But Cengiz’s lawyer Keith Harpersfrom the law firm Jenner & Block, rejected this legal conclusion.

“The Government contends that the Court must blindly approve its immunity proposal without considering whether a dismissal would be consistent with principles of customary international law,” Harper wrote. “The government is wrong”

Read the file here.

[Image via BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images]

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