A Turkish prosecutor called on Thursday for the trial in Istanbul of Saudi suspects over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to be halted and transferred to Saudi authorities, a move which comes as Turkey seeks to mend ties with Riyadh.
Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul four years ago triggered a global outcry and put pressure on Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A U.S. intelligence report released a year ago said the prince had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi, but the Saudi government denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejected the report’s findings.
Turkish officials said they believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince, was killed and his body dismembered in an operation which President Tayyip Erdogan said had been ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.
The killing and subsequent accusations strained ties between the two regional powers and led to an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods, which cut Ankara’s exports to Riyadh by 90%.
Erdogan now seeks better ties with states which had become bitter rivals in recent years, including Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli and UAE leaders visited Ankara in recent months, but progress with Cairo and Riyadh has been slower. Erdogan said last month he hoped to take “concrete steps” with Riyadh soon.
The Istanbul court where the 26 Saudi suspects have been on trial in absentia for nearly two years said on Thursday it would ask for the Justice Ministry’s opinion on the request to transfer proceedings, and set the next hearing for April 7.
In 2020, Saudi Arabia jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years for Khashoggi’s murder. None of the defendants was named in what rights groups described as a sham trial.
At the time, Ankara said the verdict fell short of expectations, but has since softened its tone as part of the broader attempt to repair ties. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster A Haber on Thursday that judicial cooperation between the two countries had improved.
Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who attended the court session, said in a statement later she was “heartbroken” by the prosecutor’s request.
“No good will come of sending the case to Saudi Arabia,” she said. “We all know the authorities there will do nothing. How do we expect the killers to investigate themselves?”