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Canada might follow a U.S. decision to put personal sanctions on Saudi Arabian officials allegedly involved in killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says.
The United States announced Thursday it would use its "Magnitsky law" to go after 17 people. They include the Saudi consul-general in Turkey, Mohammed al-Otaibi. Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi monarchy, was last seen going into the consulate in Istanbul that al-Otaibi ran.
Magnitsky laws are named for a Russian accountant killed in prison after exposing corruption among Russian tax officials. They let governments freeze people's assets and restrict their travel.
"We are very aware of the U.S. sanctions on certain Saudi individuals and we have been in close contact with the U.S. about those Magnitsky sanctions," Freeland said Thursday afternoon, visiting a factory in Port Colborne, Ont. "Canada welcomes the U.S. actions. When it comes to Canada, we also do have Magnitsky legislation in place and that is a tool which we have found very useful in our foreign policy and that is certainly something which, in the coming days, Canada is actively considering."
Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is still seeking clear answers from Saudi Arabia about what happened.
"We will continue to work with our international partners to get to a clearer determination and hear answers from Saudi Arabia on their perspective and their participation, potentially, in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi," Trudeau said, speaking to reporters at a summit he's attending in Singapore. "I think we stand with our international partners on ensuring accountability."
Trudeau's Liberal government is struggling with a multibillion-dollar sale of Canadian-made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a deal negotiated under the previous Conservative government but that needs ongoing approvals to keep shipments flowing. Besides Khashoggi's suspicious death, Saudi Arabia's involvement in a savage civil war in neighbouring Yemen raises questions about the morality of selling the kingdom weapons.
Without giving details, Trudeau has suggested the penalties if the government breaks the contract would be massive.
Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor said earlier Thursday he is seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out Khashoggi's killing.
The disclosures by the prosecution appear aimed at distancing the killers and their operation from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose decision-making powers have thrust him into the centre of a global outcry over the killing.
Facing mounting international pressure, Saudi prosecutors also pointed fingers at two men in the crown prince's inner circle but stopped short of accusing them of ordering a hit on Khashoggi. The two are instead being accused of ordering Khashoggi's forced return in an operation the Saudis allege went awry.
In a press conference, Sheikh Shalan al-Shalan, a deputy attorney general, said the Oct. 2 killing was ordered by one man: the individual responsible for the negotiating team sent to drag Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.
He did not disclose that individual's name, but said he was part of a 15-man team sent to Turkey comprised of three groups: negotiators, intelligence and logistics.
Al-Shalan said that on the morning of the killing, the leader of the negotiating team saw that he would not be able to force Khashoggi to return "so he decided to kill him in the moment."
This appears to contradict a previous Saudi statement quoting Turkish intelligence saying the killing had been premeditated.
Al-Shalan said the team drugged and killed the writer inside the consulate, before dismembering the body and handing it over for disposal by an unidentified local collaborator. The body has never been found.
The latest Saudi account of what took place failed to appease officials in Turkey, who insist the killing and its coverup were carried out by the highest levels of government.
"We did not find some of his explanations to be satisfactory," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after the Saudi announcement.
"Those who gave the order, the real perpetrators need to be revealed. This process cannot be closed down in this way," he added.
Saudi Arabia said 21 people are now in custody, with 11 indicted and referred to trial. The Turkish government is demanding the suspects be investigated and put on trial in Turkey.
Among the high-level officials incriminated in connection with the killing is former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri, who was fired in the immediate aftermath of the killing.
Al-Assiri, believed to have been a close confidant of Prince Mohammed, and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani are accused of planning and ordering Khashoggi's forced return to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qahtani is on the U.S. list of sanction targets; Al-Assiri is not. Mohammed al-Otaibi, the consul-general, is on the sanction list but not on the publicized list of people facing punishment in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi prosecutors stopped short of accusing al-Assiri or al-Qahtani of ordering the killing itself — further distancing the killers from the crown prince's inner circle and bolstering Saudi assertions that the killing was carried out by rogue agents who exceeded their authority. Both men were fired from their posts last month amid fallout from the killing.
Khashoggi had gone to the consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
— With files from Associated Press