The Saudi citizen arrested on Tuesday in Paris is not the suspect, but someone with the same name, of having participated in the brutal murder of the journalist of the same nationality Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, as announced on Wednesday by the French authorities, who have decreed his release. This confirms the statements of Riyadh, which since the day before assured that it was an identity error and demanded his immediate release.
“The exhaustive verifications on the identity of this person have established that the mandate [de arresto internacional] it does not apply to her, ”said the attorney general, Rémy Hetiz, in a brief statement. For this reason, the detainee “has been released,” he added without giving details about the identity of the affected person and whether it is, as the French press has published in recent hours, a homonymy error.
According to these French media, on Tuesday, a man traveling with an authentic passport in the name of Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi was arrested at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport as he was about to board a plane to Riyadh. The alerts could have been triggered when his passport was scanned, given that the name matches that of a 33-year-old former member of the Saudi Royal Guard who is the subject of a red notice from Interpol (a request to law enforcement agencies around the world to locate and provisionally detain a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action), at the request of Turkey.
The name of Al Otaibi is included in all the lists of 17 Saudi citizens sanctioned for the murder of Khashoggi, among others that of the United States Department of the Treasury and that of the British Government. He is also one of 26 men tried in absentia by Turkey – the country that issued the arrest warrant that reversed the arrest in Paris – for the crime committed in that country.
Although sources from the prosecutor’s office had stressed on Tuesday that the “verification” of the man’s identity was still being carried out, kept at the capital airport under “judicial or administrative retention while the case was clarified, the French press assured, citing other judicial and police sources, that it was indeed the Al Otaibi accused of the crime of Khashoggi, who has splattered the Saudi crown prince, Mohamed bin Salmán (MBS).
The first doubts arose on Tuesday night, when the Saudi Embassy in Paris categorically denied that it was the suspect. The information in the French press was “incorrect” and the person arrested “has nothing to do” with the case in question, so the Embassy awaited “his immediate release,” he said in a statement. In the same text, the diplomatic legation stressed that the Saudi justice has already condemned “all those who participated in the heinous murder” of Khashoggi and who are currently “serving their sentences”, implying that Al Otaibi is part of that group .
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Riyadh convicted five people involved in the murder of Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, when the journalist, who lived in the United States, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documentation to be able to marry and never left again. The death sentences of the defendants were shortly after commuted to lesser sentences. But Saudi Arabia, which has always denied the involvement of its crown prince Bin Salmán in the case, as claimed by the United States and Turkey, has never revealed the identity of the courts. After the arrest in Paris, the official statement from the embassy implies that one of them is the real Al Otaibi, despite the fact that he is still on Interpol’s wanted list, which is why the error occurred at the French airport.
“Following an international arrest warrant issued by the Turkish judicial authorities on November 5, 2018, in the framework of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (…) and following the issuance of a red notice from Interpol, a man was placed in judicial retention on December 7, 2021 at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, “the French attorney general recalled in this regard on Tuesday.
A Saudi Arabian security source had told Agence France Presse hours earlier that the name Khaled Al Otaibi is very common in that country and also confirmed that the man France believed to have detained is currently in a Saudi prison with “all the defendants in the case ”.