MBS denies sending hit squad to kill ex-top Saudi official in Canada, claims sovereign immunity in US

Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that holds sovereign states and heads of state as immune from prosecution. It is meant to protect foreign leaders from being subjected to laws that are not their own

FP Staff December 09, 2020 16:09:19 IST
MBS denies sending hit squad to kill ex-top Saudi official in Canada, claims sovereign immunity in US

File image of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. AP

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's lawyers have recently sought to dismiss a US lawsuit against him due to lack of evidence and invoked the doctrine of sovereign immunity to claim that he cannot be charged in an American court.
This after Saad Aljabr, a former top Saudi intelligence official, in August publicly accused MBS of sending a 'hit squad' to Canada to silence or kill him to stop undermining the crown prince's relationship with the United States and the Trump administration.

The 106-page lawsuit  marks the first time a former senior Saudi official has publicly accused MBS, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, of carrying out a widespread and sometimes violent campaign to silence critical voices.

Aljabri, a former top aide in the Saudi interior ministry, now lives in self-imposed exile near Toronto.  Mohammed has tried to coax him to return to Saudi Arabia and in March, Saudi Arabia detained two of Aljabri’s adult children and his brother, prompting accusations by relatives and United States officials that they were being held hostage to secure Aljabri’s return.

Aljabri's lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia under the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute, which allow non-Americans to sue in US courts for certain crimes committed abroad, reported The New York Times.

The lawsuit claimed that Saudi agents attempted to target Aljabri in Canada less than two weeks after another team of Saudi operatives dismembered dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence agencies have determined that the crown prince likely ordered the killing.

As per BBC, the lawyers for the 35-year-old prince said Aljabri's complaint was "steeped in drama, including an introduction that likens the crown prince to one of Shakespeare's greatest villains".

"But, regardless of its merits as literature, the complaint fails as a legal pleading," they said. The motion to dismiss further alleged that the lawsuit is an attempt to distract from allegations that al-Jabri stole $11 billion. Jabri has denied the allegations, as per Al Jazeera.

Michael Kellogg, a lawyer representing the crown prince, said in the 87-page motion to dismiss that Jabri “can say whatever he wants to the newspapers. But this case does not belong in federal court”.

Though al-Jabri lives in Canada and is a dual Saudi-Maltese citizen, he filed the claim in the US.

Kellogg, however, said the claim was "misplaced" in a US court. "Even taking Aljabri's allegations as true, he does not and cannot allege that the supposed attempt on his life in Canada was caused by any conduct in the United States," he wrote.

Furthermore, the lawyer stated that the crown prince enjoys immunity from cases against him, saying “immunity of foreign officials from suit in the United States is governed by the doctrine of common-law foreign sovereign immunity”.

"Crown Prince Mohammed has immunity based not only on his immediate familial relationship to the King but also on his own 'high-ranking office", added Kellogg.

So what is foreign sovereign immunity?

Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that holds sovereign states and Heads of State as immune from prosecution. It is meant to protect foreign leaders from being subjected to laws that are not their own.

In general, sovereign states are immune from lawsuits heard by US courts. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) establishes certain procedures that must be followed when suing a foreign sovereign and attaching property for international debt recovery purposes. Under the act, foreign states have immunity from litigation, although there are exceptions.

While the act generally does not allow foreign states and their agencies to be tried in court, it has made an exception for lawsuits concerning the taking of property in violation of international law.

As per a 2016 law, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, it limited sovereign immunity in the case of participation in international acts of “terror”, although it is unlikely the allegations in al-Jabri’s lawsuit would fall under this act, as per Al Jazeera.

This is not the first time the Saudi claim of sovereign immunity has been challenged in a US court.

Families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks have attempted to sue Saudi Arabia over allegations that the Kingdom provided support to the hijackers.

Saudi Arabia has denied the claims.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Suvendu Adhikari's 'strongman' status is highly questionable; Mamata unlikely to face stiff challenge in Nandigram
Politics

Suvendu Adhikari's 'strongman' status is highly questionable; Mamata unlikely to face stiff challenge in Nandigram

It is important to remember that Suvendu Adhikari barely got two MLAs to quit alongside him from his ‘stronghold’ and another three from other districts

Mike Pompeo, who led Donald Trump's Mission at US state dept, leaves with dubious legacy
World

Mike Pompeo, who led Donald Trump's Mission at US state dept, leaves with dubious legacy

Pompeo has been tagged by a number of officials and analysts with the dubious distinction of the worst secretary of state in American history

Crushed by COVID-19, India's tourism sector can rebuild by renewing focus on sustainable practices
India

Crushed by COVID-19, India's tourism sector can rebuild by renewing focus on sustainable practices

It is time for the stakeholders to formulate a plan that will keep principles of sustainable tourism upfront. The pandemic has forced consumers to be more cautious and focus on sustainability and local communities