(CNN)A Turkish court ruled Thursday that the trial in absentia of 26 suspects accused of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi can be moved to Saudi Arabia, in a move that could effectively end the case.
Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 triggered a global outcry against the kingdom and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish officials said Khashoggi, a prominent critic of bin Salman, was killed and dismembered inside the consulate in an operation had been approved by the “highest levels” in Riyadh. US intelligence assessed that the Crown Prince himself approved the operation, though he has denied the allegation.
The ruling Thursday comes a week after a Turkish prosecutor requested the nearly two-year-old trial be halted and transferred to Saudi Arabia because arrest warrants for the suspects could not be executed and their statements could not be taken.
Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently seeking to mend ties with Riyadh.
Hatice Cengiz, the late Khashoggi’s fiancé, and her legal team told CNN they would appeal the decision. They argued that the case would likely fizzle out in Saudi Arabia’s opaque justice system.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the decision “shocking.” “Hopes for justice have been dashed but RSF will keep on challenging by all means this unacceptable impunity,” the group said on Twitter.
It’s unclear what comes next for the 26 suspects. Saudi Arabia in 2020 sentenced eight people to between seven and 20 years in prison for Khashoggi’s murder, but Ankara said at the time that verdict fell short of expectations. The Turkish court overseeing the case asked in November for details from Saudi authorities — who had not named the suspects who were sentenced in Riyadh — so the defendants would not be punished twice for the same crime.
The Turkish prosecutor said Saudi authorities responded by asking for the case to be transferred to them. Riyadh has pledged to evaluate the accusations against the 26 defendants if the case was moved, the prosecutor said.
The killing and subsequent accusations strained ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, including a boycott of Turkish goods, which has slashed Ankara’s exports to the kingdom by 90%.
Erdogan is now seeking better ties with states that had become bitter rivals in recent years, including Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli and UAE leaders have visited Ankara in recent months, but progress with Cairo and Riyadh has been slower. Erdogan said last month he hoped to take “concrete steps” with Saudi Arabia soon.
Reuters contributed reporting.