Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials should be investigated over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi since there is credible evidence they are liable for his death, a UN rights investigator said on Wednesday.
There was no immediate response from the Saudi government communications office, but the kingdom has regularly denied accusations that the prince was involved. Riyadh was sent the 100-page report some three weeks in advance.
Khashoggi’s killing provoked widespread revulsion and tarnished the image of the Crown Prince, previously admired in the West for pushing deep changes including tax reform, infrastructure projects and allowing women to drive.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called on countries to invoke universal jurisdiction for what she called the international crime and make arrests if individuals' responsibility is proven.
She also urged countries to widen sanctions to include the Crown Prince, who many consider the kingdom's de facto ruler, and his personal assets abroad, until and unless he can prove he has no responsibility.
Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.
His body was dismembered and removed from the building, the Saudi prosecutor has said, and his remains have not been found.
"It is the conclusion of the Special Rapporteur that Mr. Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law," Callamard said in her report based on a six-month investigation.
The Saudi public prosecutor indicted 11 unnamed suspects in November, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of ordering and committing the crime.
Callamard said the Saudi trial should be suspended, citing concerns over secret hearings and a potential miscarriage of justice.
The CIA and some Western countries believe the Crown Prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.
The UN report publishes excerpts from what it calls conversations inside the consulate shortly before Khashoggi arrived at the building and during his final moments, in which a Saudi official is heard discussing cutting a body into pieces.
The material relies on recordings and forensic work by Turkish investigators and information from the trials of the suspects in Saudi Arabia, the report said. Callamard said that she could not reach firm conclusions about what the team was told was the sound of a “saw” in the operation.
Callamard went to Turkey earlier this year with a team of forensic and legal experts and said she received evidence from Turkish authorities.
"There is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s", she said.
"Indeed, this human rights inquiry has shown that there is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the Crown Prince demanding further investigation," she added, urging UN Secretary-General to establish an international probe.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey strongly endorsed the UN's recommendations regarding Khashoggi's murder.
Asked if universal jurisdiction meant potential arrests abroad of suspects, Callamard told reporters: "If and when the responsibility of those individuals has been proven, including the responsibilities of a level that warrant arrest, absolutely."
Judicial authorities in countries that recognise universal jurisdiction for serious offences can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed.