Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told 60 Minutes that he takes “full responsibility” for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because it was committed by Saudi government employees.
But he denied ordering the slaying, despite a CIA assessment that found that Mohammed probably authorised it.
“If there is any such information that charges me, I hope it is brought forward publicly,” he told interviewer Norah O’Donnell, according to a transcript of the episode to air on Sunday evening.
The comments by Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day ruler, came days before the anniversary of Khashoggi’s death and as the Saudi leadership is struggling to turn the page on a grisly episode that cast an unforgiving light on Mohammed’s human rights policies and Saudi Arabia’s complicated relationship with the United States.
The crown prince made similar statements about accepting responsibility to PBS’s Frontline, which released a lengthy documentary about Mohammed online on Saturday. In the interview with Martin Smith, he denied any prior knowledge of the killing.
Khashoggi, who wrote columns criticising the crown prince’s policies in The Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, by agents dispatched from the kingdom. Saudi prosecutors later said two of the crown prince’s most trusted aides had been involved in the planning of what was portrayed as a botched attempt to bring Khashoggi back alive to the kingdom.
One of the aides, Ahmed al-Assiri, the former deputy chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, is standing trial in the killing in Saudi Arabia. The other, Saud al-Qahtani, a former media adviser to the crown prince, has not been charged with any crime, according to diplomats and others familiar with the case.
The Frontline documentary quoted a high-level adviser to Mohammed as saying that “prosecuting someone so close to the crown prince would be politically disruptive.”
In the 60 Minutes interview, Mohammed appeared to deny that any of his confidants were involved in the plot to kill Khashoggi.
“There isn’t clear information or evidence that someone close to me did something to that effect,” he said in comments that appeared to contradict the assertions made by Saudi prosecutors.
The crown prince also played down the kingdom’s notoriously harsh suppression of free speech. “There is no threat from any journalist,” the crown prince said, speaking of Khashoggi. “The threat to Saudi Arabia is from such actions against a Saudi journalist.”
During the interview, which was conducted in the coastal Saudi city of Jeddah, Mohammed discussed the attacks on Saudi oil facilities this month that Saudi and US officials have blamed on Iran, calling for “firm action to deter” Tehran.
He was asked about allegations that Saudi Arabia has tortured prominent women’s rights activists imprisoned by the government.
“If this is correct, it is very heinous,” he said of the allegations, which were made public nearly a year ago and brought to the attention of Saudi authorities. “I will personally follow up on this matter.”