All evidence in the case of missing Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi points to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a former MI6 chief has said, warning he could soon face a reckoning at home.
Sir John Sawers, who headed the overseas intelligence service until 2014, claimed the theory of “rogue elements” floated by US President Donald Trump was “blatant fiction”.
Turkish government sources have alleged the Washington Post columnist was tortured, murdered and his body dismembered by a Saudi hit squad flown in from Riyadh.
On Friday night, Saudi state media confirmed the journalist’s death, saying investigations suggested Khashoggi died after getting into a fight with people inside the consulate.
Ealier, Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary, told the BBC that such actions would be "totally inconsistent" with British values, but said the UK had a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, and seemed to back away from the idea of ending arms sales.
Sir John added that the UK must distinguish between its relationship with Saudi Arabia, “which is an important regional ally”, and the personality of the crown prince “who has brought some very promising changes to the country but has to be forced to act in a way which is in accordance with international acceptable standards."
He said there would likely be a reaction from members of the royal family, the Saudi business community and conservative clerics who did not like the direction the country was taking.
"I think all of them will take advantage of the damage that this murder in Istanbul will do to Mohammed bin Salman’s reputation," he said. “There will be some correction.”
Pressure is growing inside the royal court over how to limit fallout from the affair.
Ailing 82-year-old King Salman, who had delegated most of his powers to favoured son Prince Mohammed, was forced to step in after the crisis showed no sign of dying down.
The king dispatched his most trusted aide, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, to Istanbul last week to try to defuse tensions with Turkey.
Sources told Reuters that questions were now being asked over the 33-year-old heir-to-the-throne’s fitness to govern.
The alleged killing has sent shockwaves through the world, dwarfing outrage over the kingdom’s recent arrest of women’s rights activists and its involvement in the deaths of civilians in the war in Yemen.
In the last few days, foreign diplomats have suspended scheduled visits to the kingdom and more than two dozen top officials and executives from the US and Europe have cancelled plans to attend the Future Investment Initiative, dubbed the “Davos of the Desert”.
Western companies concerned over the risk of their reputation are likely to put any new business in the country on hold.
The move will be a major blow for the crown prince, who had ambitious plans to reduce Saudi’s dependence on oil and open up the hermit kingdom to foreign investment.
“What can the House of Saud do? Firstly, it is likely that the elderly King will have to step up and take more control of the Kingdom,” said Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank..
He pointed out that the Khashoggi affair marks the third occasion this year, the other two being the issue of Palestine, and the IPO for state oil giant Aramco that the king has been forced to take the reins.
“King Salman might have hoped for a more leisurely semi-retirement, but he seems left with little choice at this juncture than to reset the kingdom’s global image as a rising power that seeks stability and prosperity,” he said.