Turkish President Erdoğan: Some ‘material’ at Saudi consulate in İstanbul painted over

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday some “materials” at the Saudi consulate in İstanbul where critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared two weeks ago had been painted over, according to a report by Reuters.

“My hope is that we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible because the investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over,” Erdoğan told reporters in Ankara.

Erdoğan’s comments came after Turkish police entered the consulate for the first time and searched pieces of evidence. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul on Oct. 2, and fears have grown that he has been killed.

Meanwhile, the Saudi consul general to İstanbul has arrived in Saudi Arabia, hours after Turkey said his official residence would be searched in connection with the disappearance of Khashoggi, pro-government Daily Sabah reported.

Consul General Mohammed al-Otaibi flew out of the country on a 2 p.m. flight following the announcement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry that police will search his official residence and vehicles belonging to the consulate.

While Turkish authorities have yet to offer a timeframe for the searches, Turkish forensic teams completed their search Saudi Consulate early Tuesday, Daily Sabah reported. A Turkish investigator team and Turkish prosecutor conducted a nine-hour search in the diplomatic mission’s premises which concluded Tuesday. Turkish police say that have found evidence that Khashoggi was killed there.

Last week, the Turkish government has told US officials it has audio and video recordings that prove Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in İstanbul, according to Reuters. Saudi Arabia has denied any role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday called for lifting the immunity of relevant officials and premises in İstanbul to shed light on the case of the missing Saudi journalist.

“In view of the seriousness of the situation surrounding the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations should be waived immediately,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Bachelet as saying.

“The immunity should not be used to impede investigations into what happened and who is responsible,” Bachelet said. “Two weeks is a very long time for the probable scene of a crime not to have been subjected to a full forensic investigation,” she added.

Saudi Arabia to admit Khashoggi died during ‘interrogation gone wrong’

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is preparing a report that would admit missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed as the result of an interrogation gone wrong, according to Middle East Eye (MEE), citing CNN and its two unnamed sources.

One source cautioned that the report was still being prepared and could change, CNN said, while the other source said the report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved would be held responsible.

If confirmed, the CNN report marks a stark reversal of earlier statements by Saudi officials who insisted that Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, left the building a short time after he arrived.

A source close to the Turkish investigation told MEE that Turkish authorities had discounted the theory early on that the incident was a botched interrogation.

The source said audio and video recordings showed Khashoggi’s interrogation was “extremely violent” from the beginning, signaling an intent to kill the journalist.

However, a senior source with knowledge of the Turkish investigation told MEE last week that the Saudis were on the verge of accepting Turkey’s evidence that a major crime took place at the consulate.

The Saudis intend to blame elements within their country’s “deep state” security establishment for the journalist’s kidnapping, the source said.

The source said the Saudis are hoping to build a firewall around powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has insisted he knows nothing about an alleged kidnapping operation.

The New York Times, citing a person familiar with the Saudi plans, also reported on Monday that the Saudi government would shield the prince by blaming an intelligence official for the botched operation.

US President Donald Trump appeared to back that theory on Monday when he suggested that “rogue” elements within the Saudi state may be behind Khashoggi’s alleged murder.

“The denial was very, very strong,” Trump told reporters at the White House after a phone call with Saudi King Salman. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday that Turkey had “not received a confession” from Saudi Arabia regarding the disappearance of Khashoggi. At a news conference Çavuşoğlu said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would bring more information on the issue when he arrives in Turkey after his visit to Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royal family and prominent columnist for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile in the US. He went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve paperwork.

Turkish officials have accused Saudi agents of killing the journalist inside the consulate.

Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 7, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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