UK officials have begun drawing up a list of Saudi security and government officials who could potentially come under sanctions pending the outcome of investigations into the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a source close to both Riyadh and London told The Independent.
The list being drawn up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could be used in case the UK decides to invoke the so-called “Magnitsky amendment,” passed this year, which allows Britain to impose sanctions on foreign officials accused of human rights violations, or to apply restrictions on Saudi trade and travel in coordination with the European Union.
Asked to confirm or deny the drawing up of the list, the Foreign Office said it “had nothing to add” to the Khashoggi matter other than comments Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt made to Agence France Presse on Thursday.
“Across the world, people who long thought themselves as Saudi’s friends are saying this is a very, very serious matter,” said Mr Hunt. “If these allegations are true there would be serious consequences.”
The source, a former government adviser, told The Independent they were briefed by a UK intelligence official and others. “Initially this was a position-paper scenario,” the source said. “Now it is definitely being looked at as a real possibility.”
News of escalating international consequences for Saudi Arabia came as The Washington Post reported that Turks had played US officials audio and video recordings suggesting Mr Khashoggi was tortured and murdered inside his own nation’s Istanbul consulate during a routine 2 October visit.
The Post, where Mr Khashoggi wrote a regular column critical of the Saudi leadership, also reported that the US had intercepted chatter among Saudi officials discussing plans to lure Mr Khashoggi back to the kingdom.
The possibly gruesome death of Mr Khashoggi at the hands of 15 Saudi security and intelligence personnel dispatched from Riyadh to Istanbul has been discussed by UK Cabinet ministers, the source said. “Instructions were given to Treasury and others to identify potential targets for sanctions if it is necessary, which I now am told has geared up considerably in the past 48 hours,” the source said.
The UK’s Magnitsky amendment was named after whistle-blowing Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who died in one of President Vladimir Putin’s prisons. It was inspired by similar American legislation that was invoked earlier this week by the US Senate Foreign Relations committee.
France also upped the pressure on Saudi Arabia on Friday, warning Riyadh to come clean on Mr Khashoggi’s fate.
“France asks that the facts be clearly established and that all those who can contribute to the truth fully contribute to it,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von der Muhll said in a statement. “The charges brought against them require that they be transparent and provide a complete and detailed response.”
Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance has soured relations between Saudi Arabia and many of the media and corporate leaders seduced in recent years by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the brash, 33-year-old who is the kingdom’s de facto ruler and who has vowed to modernize the country.
On Friday, CNN and The Financial Times announced they were pulling out of sponsorship of an upcoming elite business conference in Riyadh. The New York Times and The Economist had already pulled out of what had been dubbed “Davos in the desert” pending answers about Mr Khashoggi’s whereabouts.
“If the Saudis want to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion then we need to find Mr Khashoggi,” Mr Hunt said in the interview Thursday. “If they are saying these allegations are not true then where is Mr Khashoggi? I can’t see him anywhere and that is what is causing worry. We cannot overstate our seriousness.”
Meanwhile, US arms manufacturers were reportedly complaining to the Trump administration about the possibility that any sanctions could harm lucrative weapons with Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest importer of instruments of war after India.