Written by David D. Kirkpatrick
The children of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi have received tens of thousands of dollars and millions in real estate from the rulers of the kingdom as compensation for the killing of their father by a team of Saudi agents, according to a person close to the family and a former Saudi official familiar with the arrangement.
The payments appear to be part of an attempt to deter the Khashoggi children from speaking out against the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies have concluded ordered the killing.
Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist, had four adult children, at least two of whom are U.S. citizens. Saudi Arabia has now provided each of the four with a house in the family’s home city of Jiddah worth about $4 million in addition to a steady stream of cash payments of $10,000 to $15,000 a month, according to the people familiar with the arrangement. All spoke on condition of anonymity because the arrangement was confidential.
The former official said that the crown prince’s father, King Salman, had ordered the payments shortly after he first learned that Saudi agents had ambushed and killed Khashoggi, and that the payments were intended as a form of financial support, without conditions, that would continue indefinitely.
A current Saudi official compared the arrangement to royal payments to the families of soldiers killed in battle or to Saudis killed in a natural disaster.
But the Khashoggi family members also have felt pressure to refrain from criticizing the rulers of the kingdom, several people close to them have said, driven in part by fear of official retaliation against relatives still inside the kingdom. Although the other siblings are now in the United States, Khashoggi’s eldest son, Salah, still lives primarily in Jiddah, where he works as a banker, and after his father’s death he was initially barred for a time from leaving Saudi Arabia.
All four of Khashoggi’s children have privately raged at the royal court over their father’s death, many people who have talked to them have said. But in their few interviews and public statements, all his children have avoided directing any blame or resentment toward Crown Prince Mohammed and the Saudi royal family.
In an interview with CNN last fall, for example, Salah Khashoggi disputed the characterization of his father as a dissident, described him instead as a loyal supporter of the monarchy and accused unnamed critics of the kingdom of exploiting his death “in a political way that we totally don’t agree with.”
Khashoggi’s son Abdullah and daughter Noha did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did William Taylor, a Washington lawyer who has represented the family. The payments were first reported Monday in The Washington Post.
People close to Khashoggi’s children have said that, although they have now reconciled with one another, his two daughters initially took a more confrontational approach and criticized their brothers as “sellouts” for their willingness to accept the Saudi payments.
The brothers’ outlook was more fatalistic, these people said. Khashoggi’s son Abdullah, for example, complained privately that it was of little use to fight, because the new rulers of the kingdom had both killed his father and taken control, one friend recalled.
The family could soon receive additional payments in the form of so-called “blood money” in connection with a trial for Khashoggi’s killing that is unfolding in Saudi Arabia.
Under pressure from Western governments to hold accountable those responsible for the killing, Saudi Arabia has said that its public prosecutor has charged 11 officers or officials with involvement in the operation. Of those, five face potential death sentences on charges that they played a direct role at the moment when Khashoggi was killed. (Saudi officials have said he was given a tranquilizer and then suffocated or strangled inside a consulate in Istanbul.)
The trial, however, may pose a dilemma for the Saudis. A guilty verdict could create the potential appearance of more severe punishment for obedient officers who carried out the operation than for more senior officials who ordered it — a group that may include the crown prince himself.
That could send a demoralizing message to other security officers or intelligence agents, or trigger a backlash from the extended families of the accused.
But the Saudi legal system sometimes allows the families of killers — or other benefactors who support the families — to pay “blood money” to the relatives of homicide victims in exchange for an agreement to relinquish the right to demand the death penalty.
If security officers are convicted of the killing, the payment of blood money to the Khashoggis could give the king or crown prince leeway to issue pardons or suspended sentences that could defuse internal dissent.
Saudi Arabia has not discloses the names of those accused or the details of the charges or evidence against them. But in a departure from Saudi custom, some Western diplomats have been allowed to observe sessions of the trial, in an apparent effort to show the world the kingdom is pursuing justice.