Saudi Arabia appears to have been systematically helping its US-based citizens to evade American justice for serious crimes, possibly by providing fake passports and private planes.
Late last year, the Oregonian reported five cases of suspects successfully fleeing charges in the state of Oregon, which was temporarily home to about 1,000 students from Saudi Arabia. But the same news outlet has now discovered a total of 17 cases across eight states and even Canada, suggesting the ploy is an established practice.
Most of the cases involve a similar scenario: after an arrest, the Saudi consulate hires a legal team and eventually posts bail, which in two cases constituted $1 million and $500,000. Once the suspect is released, even if they had surrendered their international travel passport, they somehow manage to leave the country, before then appearing back in Saudi Arabia.
Sameer Noorah was speeding on a suspended license in 2016 when he hit and killed a 15-year-old girl. Two weeks before he was due to face trial in June 2017, a black SUV pulled up outside his house and took him to a secluded spot where his ankle monitor was cut off. At this point, US Homeland Security says he was likely issued with a false identity and left the country on a private plane.
Other cases include a rape purportedly committed after a student offered a classmate drugs and alcohol, a hit-and-run involving illegal intoxicants, and a laptop containing a massive library of child pornography.
What seems most shocking is not just the scope of the crime, but that, in the current atmosphere of suspicion regarding foreign meddling, another country has been able to flagrantly and freely violate scores of American laws. This has humiliated the US justice system without reproach, and the same schemes could be used to transport a terrorist or other security threat in and out of the country.
In January, Oregon’s two senators proposed a bill that would sanction individuals found to have helped organize these escapes, and punish the Saudi regime collectively, which they said could be using its diplomatic privileges to execute the plans.
“Saudi Arabia’s blatant disrespect for international norms cannot be allowed to stand. We should all be able to agree that any nation that helps their citizens escape from the law needs to be held fully accountable,” said Senator Jeff Merkley.
But so far, the story has received only intermittent national attention, while journalists at the Oregonian believe that only a cursory search of similar cases has been conducted, and this could represent just the tip of the iceberg.