The FBI has determined that the Saudi government has “almost certainly” helped its citizens avoid prosecution for serious crimes in the U.S. for years.
A newly declassified FBI document revealed that the secret efforts to help Saudi citizens escape while American officials looked the other way has largely been going on for years and has been aimed at saving the Persian Gulf kingdom from embarrassment.
Saudi officials “are unlikely to alter this practice in the near term unless the US Government directly addresses this issue with (Saudi Arabia) and ties US cooperation on (Saudi) priorities to ceasing this activity,” according to the FBI.
The bureau released the document Friday, which revealed the details from an August 2019 intelligence bulletin, after President Donald Trump in December signed into law the Saudi Fugitives Declassification Act, backed by Congressman Ron Wyden of Oregon.
The heavily redacted eight-page bulletin does not specify Saudi actions but does acknowledge for the first time publicly that the practice exists.
“What’s happened is the FBI has essentially told me the Saudis have lied,” Wyden told KATU-TV.
“I’m asking the president, now that we have the FBI hard evidence that the Saudis have been involved in this, to say, look, the Saudis are supposed to be our friends and that’s a good thing, but they’re not above the law,” he added.
Saudi Arabian officials “perceive the embarrassment of Saudi citizens enduring the U.S. judicial process is greater than the embarrassment of the United States learning the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) surreptitiously removes citizens with legal problems from the United States,” the FBI document stated.
“KSA officials are unlikely to alter this practice in the near term unless the U.S. Government directly addresses this issue with the KSA and ties U.S. cooperation on KSA priorities to ceasing this activity,” according to the document.
The Oregonian reported:
The revelation comes a year after an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found multiple cases where Saudi students studying throughout the U.S. vanished while facing manslaughter, sex crimes and other felony charges, with the suspected assistance of their government. The cases occurred under several U.S. administrations.
The news organization revealed criminal cases involving at least seven Saudi nationals who disappeared from Oregon before they faced trial or completed their jail sentences on charges ranging from rape to manslaughter, including those who had surrendered their passports to authorities.
One of the cases which was the focus for Wyden and his fellow Democrat Senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley, was that of 15-year-old Fallon Smart, who was killed by a driver in Southeast Portland in 2016.
Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, a 21-year-old Portland Community College student and a Saudi citizen living in Portland at the time, was charged with the hit-and-run but disappeared weeks before his 2017 trial. The suspect, who was driving on a suspended license at the time, left his neighborhood “in a black SUV and later used an illicit passport and private plane — likely provided by the Saudi government — to flee,” according to The Oregonian.
The news outlet’s investigation found similar cases in at least seven other states, some dating back decades, and added that “the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies have been aware of the Saudi machinations since at least 2008 yet never intervened.”
“I am shocked and appalled at what this memo describes,” Wyden said.
“The Saudis are supposed to be our allies,” he added. “If these are our friends, who needs enemies?”
Wyden and Merkley have sponsored bills requiring an investigation by the federal government into the disappearances as well as a call for penalties against Saudi officials who have helped suspects flee.
“I still want a better investigation of details in these cases,” Merkley said Friday. “What kind of flights were taken? What kind of paperwork do we think was invented?”
“Unless we make it a real issue and elevate it to a key point of our relationship,” he added, “the Saudis are going to keep doing what they’re doing.”
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