Khashoggi family forgive killers, opening way to legal reprieve

RIYADH (Reuters) – The family of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said on Friday they forgave his murderers, paving the way for a reprieve for five defendants sentenced to death for a crime that severely damaged the image of the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

“If a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah,” Khashoggi’s son Salah tweeted, citing a verse from the Koran on forgiveness. “Therefore, we the sons of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi announce that we pardon those who killed our father”.

In Saudi Arabia, which lacks a codified legal system and follows Islamic law, forgiveness from a victim’s family in such cases can allow for a formal pardon and a stay of execution.

The murder caused a global uproar and tarnished the image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, said they believed he had ordered the killing.

Saudi officials denied he played a role, though in September 2019 the prince indicated some personal accountability, saying “it happened under my watch”.

The court which issued the five death sentences in December said the killing was not premeditated, a ruling which backed assertions by Saudi officials but which contradicted the findings of a U.N.-led inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing.

Khashoggi was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.

Eleven suspects in all were put on trial in secretive proceedings in the capital Riyadh. In addition to the five sentenced to death, three were jailed and another three had the charges against them dismissed.

Khashoggi’s son Salah said last December that verdict had been “fair to us and that justice has been achieved.”

However, the trial was condemned by the United Nations and rights groups. Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, accused Saudi Arabia of making a “mockery” of justice by allowing the masterminds of the 2018 killing to go free.

A Saudi prosecutor at the time said there was no evidence connecting one of those officials, Saud al-Qahtani, to the killing and dismissed charges against Ahmed al-Asiri, a former deputy intelligence chief.

The Saudi prosecutor had previously said that Qahtani, a former high-profile Saudi royal adviser, had discussed Khashoggi’s activities before he entered the Saudi consulate with the team which went on to hill him. The prosecutor said Qahtani had acted in coordination with Asiri.

On Friday, Callamard criticised the potential pardon.

“The Saudi authorities are playing out what they hope will be the final act in their well-rehearsed parody of justice in front of an international community far too ready to be deceived,” she posted on Facebook.

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz also condemned the pardon, tweeting: “Nobody has the right to pardon the killers. We will not pardon the killers nor those who ordered the killing,” she said in a tweet.

Salah Khashoggi and his three siblings still live in Saudi Arabia. News reports have said the family received money and real estate from the Saudi ruling family as compensation for Khashoggi’s killing. The family has denied this claim.

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Saudi Arabia executes dance troupe attacker

A man who stabbed at least three Spanish dancers in Saudi Arabia during a live performance has been executed.

The assault on the theatre group took place during a festival in the capital Riyadh in November.

State media linked the attacker, named as Imad al-Mansouri, 33, from Yemen, to extremist group Al-Qaeda.

It took place as Saudi Arabia eased long-standing restrictions on entertainment imposed by conservative religious figures.

The attack happened on 11 November when a man stormed the stage in King Abdullah Park in Riyadh and stabbed members of the theatre group.

A special court that tries terrorism cases found al-Mansouri guilty of multiple charges, including acting on the orders of a senior al-Qaeda leader in Yemen.

He was put to death on Thursday in Riyadh, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Al-Qaeda have not said that they carried out the attack.

A second man was sentenced by the Specialised Criminal Court to 12.5 years in prison.

Saudi authorities claimed al-Mansouri filmed a video of himself railing against the country’s newly-founded Entertainment Authority, which spread on social media.

Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman promised a programme of modernising reforms called Vision 2030 when he was appointed in 2017.

Decades-old bans on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts were lifted, and women are now permitted to attend football matches.

Billions of dollars were promised to develop an entertainment industry, and international acts including K-Pop, Cirque du Soleil and Mariah Carey have performed there.

But reforms have stalled amid the arrest of women’s rights activists and scandal about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey.

Last year Nikki Minaj cancelled a scheduled concert, citing support for women and LGBT communities.

In February a Saudi rapper was reportedly arrested after releasing a video to her song Mecca Girl.

Saudi authorities say the November attack was the first since the reform programme was announced.

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Russia fund says will continue to invest in Saudi Arabia: Al-Arabiya

DUBAI (Reuters) – Russia’s sovereign wealth fund will continue to invest in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development programme, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya channel on Monday cited the head of the fund as saying.

Kirill Dmitriev, who is also one of Moscow’s top oil negotiators, said a global agreement to cut oil production prevented oil prices from falling to $10 a barrel, it added.

The oil talks, which concluded on Sunday, proved Russia’s ability to work with the United States, which is backing the agreement to reduce global oil supply, Dmitriev was quoted as saying.

The fund plans joint agricultural projects with Saudi Arabia, and is also working on a vaccines factory in the kingdom, he was quoted as saying, describing the relations with Riyadh as “very, very positive,” according to al-Arabiya.

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Saudi Arabia extends coronavirus curfew indefinitely

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman extended a nationwide curfew until further notice due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the interior ministry said on Sunday, after the kingdom reported more than 300 new infections on each of the last four days.

Last week Saudi Arabia placed its capital Riyadh and other big cities under a 24-hour curfew, locking down much of the population to stem the spread of the virus.

Elsewhere, the curfew which began on March 23 runs from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The country of some 30 million has recorded 4,033 infections with 52 deaths, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states where the total count has surpassed 13,200 with 88 deaths despite strict measures to curb transmissions.

The kingdom has halted international flights, suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage, and closed most public places. Other Gulf states have taken similar precautions.

The interior ministry said all precautionary measures across Saudi Arabia’s 13 regions remain in place.

The eastern Qatif region, where its first coronavirus cases were reported among Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been sealed off since March 8.

The United Arab Emirates, the region’s tourism and business hub, has the second highest tally at 3,736 cases with 20 deaths.

Several Gulf Arab states have seen the virus spread among low-wage foreign workers, many of whom live in overcrowded accommodations.

Qatar has locked down a large section of an industrial area, Dubai has sealed off two commercial districts with a large population of migrant workers, and Oman has closed off its Muscat governorate, which includes the capital.

Millions of migrant workers, mainly from Asian countries, including Nepal, India and the Philippines, are among the region’s large expatriate population.

India’s ambassador to the UAE told local English-language daily Gulf News on Saturday that the Indian government cannot repatriate a large number of its nationals while trying to break the chain of infection at home.

“At this stage, we feel that it is best for them (Indians wishing to return home) to stay where they are,” Pavan Kapoor was quoted as saying. “Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their home towns and their families.”

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Oil crash poses severe test for OPEC+ after Moscow, Riyadh miscalculate

DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump says he has brokered a deal with Saudi Arabia and Russia that would see sweeping oil output cuts. Riyadh has called for emergency talks, and Moscow has said it no longer plans to hike production in a battle for market share.

But the question remains: even if the world’s top three producers reach an unprecedented pact to curb oil output, can any deal remove enough oil when the coronavirus has destroyed a third of global demand for crude? [nL8N2BQ36Q]

One thing, however, has become clear: as oil prices in the past three months made some of their biggest gyrations in history, taking action will prove a severe, if not impossible, test for OPEC+, the informal grouping that had propped up crude prices for three years until their agreement collapsed in March.

An OPEC source briefed on Saudi oil policy said the scale of the fall in demand might require action beyond the scope OPEC+ could take alone. “This is an extraordinary situation that needs extraordinary measures,” the source said.

Oil demand has dropped by as much as 30 million barrels per day (bpd), roughly equivalent to the combined output of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States.

The fall is also more than the total production of all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the group that for decades was the most powerful player in the oil market.

“The magnitude of the current disruption is far beyond what OPEC can deal with alone,” the Saudi state King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center wrote this week.

It said “greater international cooperation was needed” and predicted U.S. and other higher cost producers could suffer.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Russia has directly asked the United States – which has become the world’s biggest oil producer on the back of the shale revolution helped by OPEC+ support for prices – to join the any output cuts, a move prohibited by U.S. antitrust law.

But, in reality, some degree of U.S. participation would be essential for any deal that hoped to make a difference to market fundamentals.

MISCALCULATIONS

“If the number of OPEC+ members increase and other countries join, there is a possibility of a joint agreement to balance oil markets,” one of Russia’s top oil negotiators, Kirill Dmitriev, who heads the nation’s wealth fund, told Reuters.

Still, how to respond revives the acrimonious debate in early March in Vienna, where Moscow and Riyadh fell out and the OPEC+ deal on supply curbs came to an abrupt end.

Saudi Arabia had pushed for deep additional cuts, saying it was no longer ready to shoulder the biggest burden of reductions and wanted others – with a finger pointed firmly at Russia – to take a more equitable share.

Moscow’s response was that deeper cuts made no sense until the full extent of the fallout from the coronavirus was known, given measures to combat the virus were bringing the world to a standstill, sending demand for jet fuel, gasoline and diesel into a nosedive.

Instead of finding a way to overcome their differences. Both sides misread the determination of the other to stick to their guns. Even as the finances of both nations took a pounding, they left the meeting promising to open the taps and grab market share with the inevitable result that oil prices crashed.

“Russia had miscalculated the Saudi response,” a veteran Russian oil insider said. “Moscow had never thought the Saudis would threaten to raise production so steeply. We thought they would just carry on with existing cuts.”

Saudi Arabia for its part also misjudged the magnitude of the oil demand collapse that sent oil prices to their lowest in almost two decades.

Riyadh quickly found that, in a market awash with crude, even usually reliable buyers don’t want more and steep discounts do little to change this. Oil majors and big importing nations alike have spurned the extra cargoes. [nL8N2BJ6O8]

CLAIMING VICTORY

Now both sides may now have a chance to reconsider – and possibly a way to claim they were both right. If a deal is reached, Riyadh can say pumping more crude forced Russia back to the table. If others join in, Moscow can say the virus has had a bigger impact than anything OPEC+ alone could have dealt with.

Trump, who has said Moscow and Riyadh “went crazy” by pumping more after their supply deal fell apart, stunned the market on Thursday by saying he had brokered a deal with Saudi Arabia and Russia.

“I expect and hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10 Million Barrels, and maybe substantially more which, if it happens, will be great for the oil & gas industry!” Trump wrote on Twitter, citing a figure for cuts that would be equivalent to 10% of global supply.

Trump was due to meet U.S. company executives on Thursday, but a senior administration official said U.S. domestic producers would not be asked to chip in with their own cuts.

However, even if U.S. producers don’t voluntarily take part, they may be forced to. With oil at such low prices, they may have to shut down a lot of higher cost oil production — or they will have ask for state funds to keep them afloat.

Any formal agreement to cooperate with OPEC would be complex because of the antitrust laws. But some U.S. shale producers in Texas have requested the energy regulator mandate cuts for the first time in 50 years – and one of the three commissioners at the U.S. energy regulator has said it might make sense to do so.

The commissioner, Ryan Sitton, held a call with OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo last month.

“There is so much oil and in some cases it’s probably less valuable than water … We’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump said after speaking to Putin.

U.S. officials have discussed a number of ideas about how the country can help manage global oil markets. [nL1N2BK2VY]

But in a nod to Moscow, Washington offered this week to begin lifting Venezuela sanctions if the opposition and members of the government agreed to form an interim government, shifting on a policy Moscow has called unfair. [nL1N2BO0FP]

The OPEC source said it was not clear what Washington could propose to Riyadh to alleviate the crisis.

It is also far from clear if the producers can act fast enough to make a swift difference in these turbulent times.

“You can see every now and then when Trump says he will talk to Putin about energy, the market picks up a bit,” said Saad Rahim, chief economist at trader Trafigura. “But … it’s too late.”

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