Turkish, Saudi officials to conduct 'inspection' at consulate where journalist disappeared

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are expected to conduct a joint "inspection" on Monday of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, nearly two weeks after the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish authorities said.

The announcement from an official at Turkey's Foreign Ministry comes as international concern continues to grow over the writer, who vanished on a visit to the consulate on Oct. 2. American lawmakers have threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain jointly called for a "credible investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance.

A joint Saudi-Turkish team began arriving Monday afternoon to the consulate in Istanbul's upscale 4th Levent neighbourhood as journalists filmed and shot photographs of their arrival.

It's unclear what kind of search the officials will conduct and if it will involve forensics, especially given the length of time passed since Khashoggi disappeared.

As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and cartons of milk walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.

Cleaning personnel enter Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Turkey says an "inspection" of the consulate is expected to take place later on Monday, nearly two weeks after Saudi journalist after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared there. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless," but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

The search is an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil and must be protected by host nations. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.

Turkish officials say they fear that Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who had been in living self-imposed exile in the United States, was killed and dismembered after he entered the consulate. (Hasan Jamali/Associated Press)

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Twitter late Sunday that "Canada strongly supports our allies on this important issue." An official from her office said Freeland had spoken to her counterparts in the U.S., U.K. and Germany about the issue in recent days.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's King Salman has ordered the kingdom's public prosecutor to open an internal investigation into the Khashoggi case, a Saudi official told Reuters on Monday. 

'Rogue killers' possible, Trump suggests

U.S. President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could face "severe punishment" if it was proven it was involved in Khashoggi's disappearance. Writing on Twitter on Monday, Trump said he had spoken with King Salman, "who denies any knowledge" of what happened to Khashoggi.

"It sounded to me like maybe there could have been rogue killers. Who knows?" Trump told reporters later on Monday outside the White House. He offered no evidence about why he thought rogue killers might be involved.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned that if it "receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations," said the statement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Late Sunday, King Salman spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Khashoggi. Turkey said Erdogan "stressed the forming of a joint working group to probe the case." Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said King Salman thanked Erdogan "for welcoming the kingdom's proposal" for forming the working group.

Prince Mohammed, King Salman's son, has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh called the Future Investment Initiative.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends last year's Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. A number of business leaders and media outlet have backed out of this year's event, in the wake of Khashoggi's disappearance. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

The Saudi stock exchange, only months earlier viewed as a darling of frontier investors, plunged as much as seven per cent at one point Sunday before closing down over four per cent. Concerns appeared to spread Monday to Japan's SoftBank, which has invested tens of billions of dollars of Saudi government funds. SoftBank was down over seven per cent in trading on Tokyo's stock exchange.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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