Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Aljubeir who is accompanying Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on his three-nation tour in Asia told NDTV that the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year was a "rogue operation" by government agents who acted without authority. The killing of Jamal Khashoggi - a prominent journalist and critic of the Saudi government - in Istanbul is seen to have strained ties between Saudi Arabia and western nations, especially the US. The western media has labelled the Crown Prince's Asia tour - which comes five months after the murder - as a move to "refurbish" his image.
"His Royal Highness does not need to refurbish his image because his image is not tarnished. He had nothing to do with this. He did not give the order. This was a rogue operation, these were individuals who are Saudi government agents who acted outside their authority," Mr Aljubeir told NDTV in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, terming the high-profile murder as a "heinous crime".
Although the Crown Prince has US President Donald Trump's support, days before his tour, the US House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, voted to ask the President to withdraw US forces from the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen. Several lawmakers in the Senate, prominent Republicans among them, have threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia.
On October 2, Mr Khashoggi had walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and did not emerge. While Saudi Arabia maintains that he was murdered inside on the orders of a rogue intelligence officer, Turkish officials claim to have evidence -- including audio recordings -- indicating that the journalist was killed by Saudi agents on orders that came from the highest reaches of the country's administration. His body is yet to be recovered.
Mr Aljubeir, who came to India as part of a delegation led by the Crown Prince, said an investigation was ordered as soon as the murder came to light.
"(We have) Levelled charges against 11 of those detained. Five are now facing the death penalty. The trials began in early January, and we will make sure that those behind this crime are punished," he added.
Mr Aljubeir said that the widespread scepticism over their version of Mr Khashoggi's murder stems from a hysteria that seems to have gripped the West.
In a reference to the torture of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison by US intelligence and military personnel during the Iraq war, he said: "Abu happened in Iraq and thousands of prisoners were abused and tortured, and some were killed. Do people really think that George Bush knew about it, and gave the orders? No. So, I have been telling people to wait until the (legal) process is over. But to attack us before the process can even unfold is unfair to say the least."
"The principle in law is 'innocent until proven guilty', but in this case it's guilty and will not be proven innocent. But, in the end, this was a crime committed by people who exceeded their authority," said Mr Aljubeir, adding that his country was looking at ways to ensure that incidents like these do not recur.