Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prepares for U.S. legal battles

The cases allege flagrant human rights violations, torture and murder by America’s oldest ally in the Middle East, and were brought by D...



The cases allege flagrant human rights violations, torture and murder by America’s oldest ally in the Middle East, and were brought by David Pressman for Aljabri and by Keith M. Harper for Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and a human rights group he founded. Both attorneys are former Obama administration ambassadors to the United Nations launching a new human rights and global strategy practice with the Jenner & Block law firm.

Analysts say the cases come at a sensitive time for U.S.-Saudi relations, threatening ongoing scrutiny of bin Salman’s authoritarian rule as many Democrats and some Republican lawmakers have condemned the humanitarian catastrophe created by a Saudi-backed civil war in Yemen.

With the possibility that President Trump may not win reelection, the Saudis are belatedly realizing, “they’re going to be facing a much more hostile Washington than has been the case for the last four years, and maybe a more hostile Washington than they’ve ever faced before,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official now at the Brookings Institution.

“The stakes here are really quite high for Saudi Arabia,” said Riedel, who has worked with generations of Saudi leaders since joining the CIA in 1977. “These lawsuits will only remind people . . . of a pattern of Saudi efforts to intimidate if not kill critics of the regime.”

“It’s hard to think of something they can do that would appease their critics in the United States now . . . and if Trump is gone they lose their defender,” he added.

In the latest developments in Aljabri’s case, attorney Michael K. Kellogg entered his appearance to defend bin Salman, who goes by MBS, last month. Plaintiffs served notice by mail to the royal court and Al Auja Palace in Riyadh, as well as via the encrypted phone messaging app WhatsApp.

In a statement announcing the execution of service on Thursday, Aljabri’s son Khalid said, “We are hopeful that MBS could be required to explain to a U.S. federal judge why he tried to assassinate my dad shortly after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and why he continues a campaign of terror against my family.”

Khalid Aljabri, 36, a Boston cardiologist who joined his father in exile in Toronto, added in an interview that his father had WhatsApp contacts for bin Salman and other co-defendants, calling it the crown prince’s “favorite tool to communicate, including with foreign leaders.”

A United Nations investigation in January reported that the cellphone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked in 2018 after he got a WhatsApp message that came from an account purportedly belonging to bin Salman.

Kellogg declined to comment on a pending lawsuit, with a formal response to the court due Dec. 7.

But his firm tops a star-studded cast of defense attorneys mustered by the prince and more than a dozen Saudi co-defendants, including counsel who have represented Saudi interests over years of litigation tied to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Defense attorneys have not yet entered an appearance in the Khashoggi case, which was filed Oct. 20.

James P. Kreindler, a New York lawyer who represents 9/11 victims and survivors, called Kellogg “a very smart and very good lawyer” who has defended the kingdom for nearly two decades.

Families have sought billions of dollars in damages from banks, charities and individuals alleging the kingdom supported al-Qaeda leading up to the attacks. Kreindler said Saudi defendants have typically been well represented with deep-pocketed support.

“I’m not aware of any defendant in 20 years in 9/11 cases who was not able to get good counsel,” Kreindler said.

“Michael Kellogg will raise every defense, throw every obstacle in their path,” Kreindler said, beginning with whether a U.S. judge has jurisdiction to weigh allegations of a plot by authorities in Riyadh to kill a former high-ranking official now living in Canada, and whether foreign government officials are immune from civil suits in the United States.

Pressman, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Security Council, declined to discuss the case. But in an interview, he and Harper, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said they joined Jenner & Block since June intending to “live up to the responsibilities that private litigants and lawyers have to address egregious conduct by authoritarian regimes.”

The firm’s new human rights practice will assist corporations with independent investigations, crisis response, international negotiations and global business reviews, as well as litigate for individuals.

Earlier this year, the firm also added another former U.S. diplomat, Lee S. Wolosky, and attorney Douglass Mitchell, who together previously succeeded in freezing more than $2 billion in Iranian assets to enforce court judgments for the benefit of terrorism victims.

“Doug is the nation’s foremost lawyer in enforcing U.S. terrorism judgments abroad and is experienced litigating cases against banks under the Anti-Terrorism Act,” Wolosky said. “More generally, he is an exceedingly experienced and talented trial lawyer.”

“You have to be willing to treat gross human rights abuses with the attention they deserve and use instruments in this country that have been established to protect our rights and our democracy and defend our values,” Pressman said. “That’s not only a responsibility of human rights activists, but also of companies doing business in the world, where they have exposures to abuses.”

Aljabri asserted in a complaint filed Aug. 6 that the Saudi leader orchestrated a conspiracy to kill him in Canada that parallels one that resulted in the death of Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi columnist and Washington Post contributor. The CIA has assessed that bin Salman probably ordered Khashoggi’s killing himself, The Post previously reported.

Since March, Saudi authorities have arrested and held one of Aljabri’s sons, Omar, 22, and a daughter, Sarah, 20, the lawsuit alleges. Aljabri’s brother has also been arrested, and other relatives detained and tortured in and out of Saudi Arabia, the lawsuit asserts, “all in an effort to bait [Aljabri] back to Saudi Arabia to be killed.”

Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now claimed in their lawsuit that Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi Consulate in Turkey to obtain documents that would allow him to marry pursuant to a directive by bin Salman to “permanently silence” his advocacy for democratic reform in the Arab world.

Saudi officials have asserted that Khashoggi’s death was a tragic accident, carried out by rogue agents who disobeyed orders to persuade Khashoggi to return to the kingdom.

The kingdom prosecuted people it said were Khashoggi’s killers in a trial broadly criticized by human rights groups, which noted that court sessions were closed to the public and that no senior officials were held to account.

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Newsrust: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prepares for U.S. legal battles
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prepares for U.S. legal battles
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