MBS has become increasingly powerful amid his father’s continuing health battles and political shakeups in the kingdom.
Lawyers for Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) filed a motion on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit against him, saying there is no evidence to support claims he ordered a hit squad to assassinate a former Saudi intelligence official and that he has immunity from charges in a US court.
The 106-page lawsuit (PDF) was filed in August on behalf of Saad al-Jabri, an exiled former aide to former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was overthrown in a 2017 palace coup that left MBS as the country’s de-facto ruler.
Al-Jabri claims he obtained information during his time as an aide and as a top intelligence official that could be threatening to MBS, which motivated the Saudi crown prince to organise an assassination attempt against him using the so-called “Tiger” hit squad.
The lawsuit says the alleged attempt took place 13 days after members of the Tiger squad were involved in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
It carried on to say the plot was thwarted when the Tiger squad arrived at the Canadian border and aroused the suspicion of security officials.
Michael Kellogg, a lawyer representing MBS, said in the 87-page motion to dismiss that al-Jabri “can say whatever he wants to the newspapers. But this case does not belong in federal court”.
The filing claims that because al-Jabri is a dual Saudi-Maltese citizen living in Canada, where the alleged attempt on his life took place, he has no right to bring the case before a US court.
According to the motion, “even taking Aljabri’s allegations as true, he does not and cannot allege that the supposed attempt on his life in Canada was caused by any conduct in the United States.”
The suit was filed in the US under the Alien Tort statute and the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows for complaints against foreign nationals.
Furthermore, Kellogg wrote that MBS enjoys head-of-state immunity, saying “immunity of foreign officials from suit in the United States is governed by the doctrine of common-law foreign sovereign immunity”.
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that holds sovereign states, heads of state, immediate members of their families and other high-ranking government officials are immune from prosecution.
Saudi sovereign immunity has been challenged in the past over allegations the kingdom provided support to 9/11 hijackers responsible for the 2001 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
Saudi Arabia has denied the claims.
A 2016 law called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act limited sovereign immunity in the case of participation in international acts of “terror”, though it is unlikely the allegations in al-Jabri’s lawsuit would fall under this act.
The motion to dismiss further claims the lawsuit is an attempt to distract from Saudi allegations that al-Jabri stole $11bn. Al-Jabri has denied the allegations.
MBS and the Saudi government have been accused of various rights abuses, including purges during a widespread crackdown on members of the Saudi royal family accused of corruption in 2017.