WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced two new pieces of legislation that would impose significant consequences on foreign consulates that help their citizens escape legal accountability within the U.S.
Merkley and Wyden’s legislation follows investigative reporting by the Oregonian that found Saudi consular officials within the U.S. helped Abdulrahmeen Sameer Noorah, a Saudi national, escape the U.S. soon before his trial. Noorah was charged with manslaughter, felony hit-and-run, and reckless driving after fatally striking an Oregon teen with his car. A Saudi consulate posted $100,000 bail for Noorah before he escaped, and the U.S. Marshalls Service suspects Saudi officials helped Noorah escape the country on a private flight.
“When anyone within our nation commits a crime, they need to be held accountable—especially when that crime results in the death of an innocent teenager,” said Merkley. “Saudi Arabia’s blatant disrespect for international norms cannot be allowed to stand. We need a wholesale rethinking of our relationship with Saudi Arabia—and we should all be able to agree that any nation that helps their citizens escape from the law needs to be held fully accountable. After the shocking murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, this is yet another sign of Saudi Arabia’s flaunting of diplomatic norms.”
“More than a month after The Oregonian first put a spotlight on how Saudi Arabia’s government apparently helped accused criminals flee the United States, the Trump Administration has failed to explain what, if anything, it is doing to ensure these men face American justice,” said Wyden. “That’s totally unacceptable. Our bills will force the Justice Department to get to the bottom of what happened, and create tough consequences for any government that helps flout the U.S. justice system.”
In addition to the Noorah case, the Saudi government is reported to have helped at least four other Saudi nationals charged with serious crimes evade accountability in Oregon. Reportedly, the Saudi government bailed out Ali Hussain Alhamoud, a Saudi national, from Lincoln County Jail in 2012 after he was indicted on multiple sex crime charges. Alhamoud subsequently fled successfully to Saudi Arabia, and his case remains open in the United States. The Saudi consulate in Los Angeles posted bond for Saudi nationals in two of the three other known cases where Saudi nationals fled prosecution.
The first bill being introduced today, the ESCAPE (Examining Saudi Consular Activities Promoting Extraction) of Saudi Nationals Act, would:
- Urge the President to declare any Saudi diplomat involved in the extraction of Noorah or Alhamoud as a persona non-grata, which would trigger their expulsion from the United States.
- Urge the State Department not to accredit any Saudi diplomat at the Los Angeles Consulate until those two fugitives are returned to the United States.
- Require the State Department, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney General, to deliver a report within 90 days investigating any involvement of the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles in aiding the disappearance of Noorah and Alhamoud.
- Amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to require the State Department to shut down any consulate or embassy in the United States that is found to have aided in the removal of one of its citizens in order to evade criminal accountability, provided Saudi diplomats found to have aided such a removal are not expelled from the United States.
The second bill, the Preserving American Justice Act, would:
- Charge the Department of Justice with maintaining an annual report about foreign nationals who flee before facing justice in the United States. Currently, no agency formally tracks this information.
- Require the Director of National Intelligence to maintain a list of countries that facilitate the escape of foreign nationals.
- If Department of Justice determines that the Saudi government assisted any alleged criminal in escaping justice in the United States, the bill would prohibit the issuance of all visas and travel to the United States to the following groups of Saudi nationals: the Council of Ministers, their respective families, King Salman, all of his direct descendants and full-relatives.
- Create a tax penalty for any countries that land on such a list, removing a tax exemption that foreign governments and sovereign wealth funds are able to access on certain types of investment income. This penalty could significantly impact the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which is estimated at near $400 billion.