Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that parts of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul had been repainted since Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“The investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over,” Erdogan told reporters.
A Turkish security source said the search of the consulate provided “strong evidence” but no conclusive proof that Khashoggi was killed there. “However, there are some findings and they are being worked on,” he said.
The source also confirmed that Saudi consul-general Mohamed al-Otaibi left Istanbul yesterday, returning to Riyadh, before his residence was set to be searched.
The source added that the Turkish authorities had not asked him to go. “He wanted to leave”.
The UN human rights chief called yesterday for the lifting of the immunity of officials who might be involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Due to the seriousness of the case, the immunity generally accorded to diplomats “should be waived immediately”, Michelle Bachelet said.
Meanwhile, the US yesterday said Saudi Arabia denied that the kingdom killed the journalist but backed a “thorough probe”, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a trip to the Gulf state.
President Donald Trump dispatched the top US diplomat on an urgent mission to Riyadh to defuse the crisis over Khashoggi.
Turkish officials say Khashoggi, who lived in the US and contributed to The Washington Post, was killed inside the consulate.
Pompeo will speak to Turkish leaders in Ankara today, the two countries said.
Pompeo met in Riyadh with the top leadership of Saudi Arabia, including King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
As Pompeo yesterday met the crown prince over dinner, Trump tweeted that he had telephoned and that the 33-year-old heir apparent denied any knowledge of what took place in the consulate.
The crown prince “told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly,” Trump wrote.
Trump’s remarks contradict reports by CNN and The Wall Street Journal that Saudi Arabia was weighing admitting the killing but characterising the death as an unintended mistake.
Meeting King Salman, Pompeo “thanked the king for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance”, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
On the other hand, there have been sharp words targeting the crown prince,from US senators on both the Republican and Democratic sides, amid calls for Congress to halt US arms sales to the kingdom.
The Turkish authorities stepped up their investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, with police searching the Saudi consulate for eight hours into yesterday morning, taking a sample of the garden soil.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country’s officials would extend their investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance to include the residence of the Saudi consul and some vehicles.
However, officers later said Turkish police would not search the consul’s residence yesterday. The search was called off for the day because Saudi officials were not able to join, the police said.
Cavusoglu also said officials investigating the Khashoggi case might ask for testimony from staff at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul if deemed necessary but that no restrictions on travel had been placed on the kingdom’s diplomats in Turkey.
He told reporters at a press conference in Ankara that US counterpart Pompeo would share any information gathered regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance with Turkish officials.
Meanwhile, Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said yesterday that he would most likely not attend the upcoming investment conference in Saudi Arabia. Hoekstra told the Dutch parliament that if there is no clarification from Riyadh about what happened to Khashoggi. “it is unlikely I will go.” He added, “I will follow developments and take a decision at the end of this week.”
The conference, dubbed “Davos in the Desert” and scheduled to take place in Riyadh next week, has been hit by a string of prominent cancellations and withdrawals.
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