A phone call recording has linked the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi Crown Prince.
After the murder of the Washington Post columnist, a member of the team that murdered the Saudi journalist made a phone call to a superior to “tell your boss” the murder mission had been completed.
The phone call was made by Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb in Arabic.
A recording of it, shared last month with CIA director Gina Haspel, is seen as some of the strongest evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder, the New York Times reports.
The phone call did not mention the Prince by name, but the newspaper says US intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to the young ruler, while Turkish intelligence officers said they thought he was speaking to one of Bin Salman’s aides.
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied the Crown Prince had any knowledge of Khashoggi’s murder.
Turkish intelligence officers have told US officials they believe that Mutreb, a security officer who frequently travelled with Prince Mohammed, was speaking to one of the Crown Prince’s aides. While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mutreb also said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”
“A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer now at the Brookings Institution. “It is pretty incriminating evidence.”
Turkish officials have said that the audio does not conclusively implicate Prince Mohammed, and US intelligence and other government officials have cautioned that however compelling the recording may be, it is still not irrefutable evidence of his involvement in the death of Khashoggi.
Even if Mutreb believed the killing was ordered by the Crown Prince, for example, he may have had an inaccurate understanding of the origins of the order. Prince Mohammed is not specifically named on the recording, and intelligence officials do not have ironclad certainty that Mutreb was referring to him.
In a statement on Monday, Saudi officials denied that the Crown Prince “had any knowledge whatsoever” of Khashoggi’s killing. Referring to Mutreb’s instructions to “tell your boss,” the Saudi statement said that Turkey had “allowed our intelligence services to hear recordings, and at no moment was there any reference to the mentioned phrase in the such recordings.”
The Turks may possess multiple recordings, including surveillance of telephone calls, and Turkish authorities may have shared the audio only selectively.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became the first Western leader to acknowledge his country had heard the recordings of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “Canada has been fully briefed up on what Turkey had to share,” Trudeau said from the Canadian Embassy in Paris, where he was attending the Peace Forum following the WWI Armistice centenary. Trudeau said he had not personally listened to the tapes, but said he had been speaking with the Turkish President.