ISTANBUL -- More than a week after Saudi agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia sent an expert team to clean up evidence of the crime under the guise of helping with the investigation, a senior Turkish official said Monday -- the latest twist in a case that has caused an international uproar.
A pro-government newspaper, Sabah, published news of the Saudi cleanup team and photographs of two of its members who visited the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi was killed.
The senior Turkish official confirmed the main details of the report and said the Saudi team was sent with the knowledge of top Saudi officials.
The two men traveled to Turkey for the sole purpose of covering up evidence of the killing before Turkish police were allowed to search the premises, the official said in comments relayed by electronic message.
The two men were identified as Ahmad Abdulaziz al-Jonabi, a chemist, and Khaled Yahya al-Zahrani, a toxicologist, part of a team of Saudi investigators who spent several days in Turkey visiting the consulate and the consul's residence, ostensibly to help with the investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance, the newspaper reported.
The Turkish official confirmed the names of the two individuals and said that they
were part of a cleanup team. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, according to the rules of his office.
Saudi Arabia has detained 18 people implicated in the killing of Khashoggi, but has not said who ordered what Turkish officials have characterized as the political assassination of a prominent critic of the Saudi government.
Turkish and Western officials have said that it is unlikely that such a plan would have been carried out without the blessing of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen as the country's de facto ruler and has been consolidating his grip on power since last year.
Speaking Monday in Geneva, the president of Saudi Arabia's human rights commission, Bandar al-Aiban, vowed a full investigation and punishment of those responsible, but shed no new light on the case. His remarks, before the United Nations Human Rights Council, came in a review of the kingdom's human-rights record.
Turkey has demanded, to no avail, that Saudi Arabia disclose what became of Khashoggi's body, that it name the "local collaborator" who a Saudi official has said helped dispose of the remains, and that it turn over the 18 suspects to face the Turkish justice system.
The Saudi cleanup team arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 11, nine days after Khashoggi's death, and visited the consulate every day from Oct. 12 to Oct. 17, according to Sabah. Turkish investigators were not allowed into the consulate, which is considered Saudi sovereign territory, until Oct. 15.
Sabah published photographs of al-Jonabi and al-Zahrani emerging from the entrance of the consulate and also published photographs that the newspaper's investigative editor, Abdurrahman Simsek, said were head shots from cameras at airport passport control.
The men arrived on the same day as a Saudi delegation that met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 11, as Turkish officials demanded to know what had happened to Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government who lived in the United States and wrote opinion articles for The Washington Post.
He had entered the consulate Oct. 2 for a prearranged meeting to collect papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee and was never seen again.
When the group identified as a cleanup team was in Turkey, Saudi officials were still insisting that Khashoggi, 59, had left the consulate safely and that they did not know where he was. They later acknowledged that he had been killed in the consulate, at first describing his death as the accidental result of a fight and later calling it premeditated.
The Khashoggi case has worsened Saudi relations with not only Turkey, but also with the United States and some of its closest allies, particularly in Europe. It has also increased attention on Saudi Arabia's role in the civil war in Yemen, where civilian casualties continue to climb, leading to calls in the West to stop arms sales to the Saudis.
The U.N. review of Saudi Arabia's human rights record included demands for a transparent investigation into the killing, but representatives of several countries took a broader approach to criticizing the kingdom. They pointed to Saudi Arabia's frequent and increasing use of capital punishment, including for nonviolent offenses, and accused the Saudis of executing people for political or religious dissent.
Since the killing, international companies have come under pressure to cut ties to Saudi Arabia, but on Monday, the chief executive of SoftBank of Japan said it would continue to do business with the kingdom.
A Section on 11/06/2018
Print Headline: Saudis scrubbed crime scene, Turk says