A major US-based law firm has formally ended its lobbying for the Saudi royal court department implicated in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Square Patton Boggs began working on behalf of the Center for Studies and Media Affairs, which is run by Saudi Royal Court advisor Saud al-Qahtani, in September 2016 with a contract worth $100,000 per month, according to foreign lobbyists’ files.
On January 29, the center was listed on file as a foreign principle the company continued to represent, providing “general legal advice” but not performing “reportable activities” during the last six months of 2020.
But on September 17, after a campaign led by a pro-democracy organization, the company filed papers that terminated its representation.
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In an email on Friday, company spokesperson Angelo Cacholieres told MEE that Square Patton Boggs had not lobbied on behalf of Saudi Arabia “in more than four years.”
He wrote, “Accordingly, we have updated our reports and de-registered under [قانون تسجيل الوكلاء الأجانب] On behalf of the Center for Media Studies, which no longer exists and has not existed for several years.”
MEE noted that the $157,300 included in the January filing was for legal advice the company provided to Saudi Arabia, not to the center.
“Finishing the contract is a great victory”
Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said in a statement that ending the contract “is an important victory for organizations that do not want well-paid lobbyists to represent abusive and influential governments. Our elected officials.
“Every lobby working for autocrats and abusers in the Middle East should terminate their contracts or expect to find themselves in the lobby hall of disgrace,” Jarrar said.
Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
Within days of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, MEE revealed that al-Qahtani was one of the leaders of the Tiger Squad, a death squad set up under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with the aim of secretly assassinating Saudi dissidents inside the kingdom and on foreign soil.
Several weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA had assessed that members of the media center were among the Saudi team sent to kill him.
Then, earlier this year, a declassified US intelligence report concluded that Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and asserted that the CIA believed media center officials were among the killing team.
The report also highlighted that al-Qahtani publicly claimed that he “did not make decisions without the approval of the Crown Prince.”
Al-Qahtani was removed from his position overseeing the media center in October 2018. His whereabouts have since been debated.
The Saudi government said the declassified report was “negative, false and unacceptable” and contained “inaccurate information and conclusions.”