ISTANBUL (REUTERS, AFP) - Turkey does not want anything covered up in the case of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, nor will it blame anyone in advance, the ruling AK Party’s spokesman said on Saturday (Oct 20).
"Turkey will reveal whatever had happened. Nobody should ever doubt about it,” said Omer Celik, spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Anadolu news agency reported.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and critic of the Islamic petro-state’s powerful crown prince, was last seen on Oct 2 entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia on Saturday said Khashoggi had died in a fight inside its Istanbul consulate – Riyadh’s first acknowledgement of his death after two weeks of denials that it was involved in his disappearance.
Turkish police and prosecutors this week searched both the consulate as well as the consul’s residence in Istanbul.
Celik said it was Turkey’s “debt of honour” to reveal what happened. “We are not accusing anyone in advance but we don’t accept anything to remain covered (up),” he said.
Turkish investigators are likely to find out what happened to Khashoggi's body “before long”, a senior Turkish official said on Saturday.
The official, who declined to be identified, also told Reuters that Khashoggi’s DNA samples were being procured from Turkey, meaning that investigators would not need to ask Saudi Arabia for samples at the moment.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday night spoke with Saudi King Salman and the two agreed to continue cooperation in the probe. In public, Erdogan and top government figures have remained extremely cautious, often referring to a prosecutors’ investigation and stopping short of pinning the blame on Saudi Arabia.
Staff members of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul testified to prosecutors Friday as part of the probe.
In an expanding quest for evidence, police searched a forest on Istanbul's outskirts and a city near the Sea of Marmara for Khashoggi's remains, two senior Turkish officials told Reuters, after tracking the routes of cars that left the Saudi consulate and the consul's residence on the day he vanished.
State-run Anadolu news agency said the Turkish prosecutor's office had taken testimonies by 20 consulate employees, and that 25 more people including foreign nationals would be questioned as part of the investigation.
The consulate employees questioned include accountants, technicians and a driver, Anadolu said. The investigation is being carried out by the prosecutor's terrorism and organised crime bureau, it added.
Turkey said on Friday it had not shared audio recordings purportedly documenting Khashoggi's murder inside the consulate, dismissing reports it had passed them to the United States.
Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak has published what it said were details from the audio, including that his torturers severed Khashoggi's fingers during an interrogation and later beheaded and dismembered him.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said previously Ankara had not shared information with any country, adding, "We will share the results that emerge transparently with the whole world."
US President Donald Trump tweeted that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "was never given or shown a Transcript or Video" from the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Pompeo has also said he did not review any recordings.
The disappearance and presumed death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, has caused an international outcry and strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Western allies. The journalist was a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The crown prince has painted himself as the face of a vibrant new kingdom, diversifying its economy away from oil and introducing some social changes. But other moves have faced criticism, including involvement in the Yemen war, the arrest of women activists, and a diplomatic row with Canada.
Pompeo said the United States would “consider a wide range of potential responses” but that it was important for the facts to emerge.
In his meetings with senior Saudi officials, including the crown prince, Pompeo said he made clear that the United States took this case very seriously.
“That we don’t approve of extrajudicial killings. That we don’t approve of that kind of activity,” Pompeo said in an interview with Voice of America.
Khashoggi's disappearance has tarnished the crown prince's reputation and deepened questions about his leadership, prompting the king to intervene, five sources with links to the Saudi royal family told Reuters.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from France, Britain and the Netherlands have abandoned plans to attend an Oct 23-25 investor conference in Riyadh, putting the event in question.
On Friday, the chief executive officers of Deutsche Bank and ABB , plus Airbus' defence chief and energy historian Daniel Yergin joined a growing list of Western business executives who have pulled out.
But Pakistan's prime minister and a delegation led by Russian Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev plan to participate, while Britain's BAE Systems is sending senior representatives.
A conference spokesperson confirmed the conference would still go ahead with an updated programme that includes heads of state from the Arab world, Africa and Asia.
A pro-government Turkish daily published preliminary evidence last week from investigators who it said had identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team that arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Khashoggi disappeared.
One name matches a LinkedIn profile for a forensic expert who has worked at the interior ministry for 20 years. Another matches a former diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in London. Others resemble people identified as officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force.
A New York Times report, citing witnesses and other records, linked four suspects to Prince Mohammed's security detail.
Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah also published time-stamped photos it said showed a man, who appears to travel sometimes with the Saudi crown prince, outside the consulate on the morning Khashoggi disappeared.
'VERY SERIOUS MATTER'
Trump has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from the Saudis, citing Riyadh's role in countering Iranian influence in the Middle East and tens of billions of dollars in potential arms deals.
He has said he believes Khashoggi is likely dead and the US response could be "very severe" but he wanted to get to the bottom of what happened. He previously speculated without providing evidence that "rogue killers" could be responsible.
Trump, who has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, says Washington has asked Turkey for any audio or video evidence, while Pompeo said Riyadh should be given a few more days to complete its own probe.
US intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced of Prince Mohammed's culpability in the operation against Khashoggi, which they believe resulted in his death, a US government source said.
The foreign ministers of Britain and Germany said on Friday that the allegations regarding Khashoggi would be totally unacceptable if true.
Arab allies have rallied to support Riyadh, with UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash denouncing what he called "attempts to undermine Saudi stability".