The Saudi Public Prosecutor published the Saudi findings on Khashoggi murder marking yet another change to the Saudi version of events.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has concluded that the decision to kill Jamal Khashoggi, the prominent Washington Post journalist, was given by the Deputy President of the General Intelligence General Ahmed al Assiri and not by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The long-awaited report was expected to put forward the Saudi case given all the suspects are in Saudi custody. However, the report was another step in the changing story of the Saudis and perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he is the de facto ruler of the kingdom, the crown prince was exonerated.
Khashoggi, according to the Saudi Public Prosecutor “was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death”.
As a result of this investigation, 11 suspects have been indicted and the death penalty is being sought for five of them, the public prosecutor added.
The US treasury announced shortly after the report that it would sanction 17 individuals linked with the murder of the Washington Post journalist, aware that it been slow to go after the perpetrators and of the close relationship the Trump administration has built with MBS, chosen as the favourite to succeed the ailing King Salman.
At a news conference on Thursday, Saudi Public Prosecutor Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan officially admitted for the first time what Turkish authorities have been saying; that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered.
The report, however, still leaves many questions unanswered.
Where is the body?
The Saudi authorities claim that Khashoggi's body was given to a local collaborator to dispose of. And according to witness statements, an image has been produced of the alleged collaborator. This has not been released to the public, which would need to happen if the person is to be brought to justice.
More worryingly the Saudi investigation does not seem to overly concerned about the whereabouts of the body. Nor did the report deal with Turkish allegations that the body has most likely been dissolved in acid.
To date, Turkish authorities have been several steps ahead of the Saudi authorities, often forcing them to make U-turns.
Rogue individuals or rogue leadership?
The Saudi investigation claims that the order to capture Khashoggi was given by the former deputy president of General Intelligence, General Ahmed al Assiri.
It claims he gathered together a 15-strong team of negotiators, intelligence officers and logistics experts to persuade Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia.
Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan has in the past suggested that "the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government".
It would have been highly improbable, in a kingdom where MBS has concentrated a huge amount of power in his hands, that this would have been done without his acquiescence.
Given that this operation would have had far-reaching consequences for the Saudi state, and also the individuals involved, it would be remarkable that MBS was not in the know, since several of the perpetrators are close associates of the crown prince and often seen accompanying him in foreign trips.
The prosecutor's presentation failed to shift what is a growing international consensus between European, American and Turkish intelligence agencies that MBS had authorised the operation.
Premeditated or accidental?
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said that said the some of the responses by the public prosecutor were "unsatisfactory".
"They say this person was killed because he resisted, whereas this murder was premeditated," he told reporters.
He went on to say: "Again, they say he was dismembered... but this isn't a spontaneous thing. The necessary equipment and people were previously brought in to kill and later dismember him."
In addition to this, the Saudi hit squad had brought a body double with them, which certainly points to a pre-meditated affair rather than a kidnapping attempt gone wrong.
Moreover, the public prosecutor’s claim that the dismemberment of the body was a spur-of-the-moment event and that the team aimed to “persuade” Khashoggi to come back to Saudi Arabia clearly fail to match up with what Turkish authorities have said to date.
Khashoggi was killed within seven minutes of entering the Saudi Consulate and with the Saudi team in possession of a bone saw which they used to dismember the body, it certainly points towards being premeditated.
For MBS, all this presents a bind. If the suspects followed his orders and are executed then who would do anything the would-be ruler asks in the future, as they could end up getting blamed?