Saudi Arabia has one of the worst governments in the world, ruthless and oppressive. It is however a close ally of the US and because of the value it provides as a friendly source of oil and its willingness to act as a regional surrogate power against Iran and Yemen, the US turns a blind eye to even the most outrageous actions. The most obvious recent example is of course the way that the country and its de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman have suffered no consequences at all for the brutal murder of reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
But that is not all. The Saudi government brazenly allows its citizens in the US to escape the consequences of their crimes by paying their bail and spiriting them out of the country before they can be tried, even if their passports have been impounded. It is hard to imagine how this could only happen unless the US government has decided to look the other way. The right to justice for the victims of the crimes is simply ignored.
ProPublica had an exhaustive report of the many instances of such behavior.
The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies have been aware of the Saudi actions for at least a decade, officials said. But successive American administrations have avoided confronting the government in Riyadh out of concern that doing so might jeopardize U.S. interests, particularly Saudi cooperation in the fight against Islamist terrorism, current and former officials said.
American officials said Saudi diplomats, intelligence officers and other operatives have assisted in the illegal flight of Saudi fugitives, most of them university students, after they were charged with crimes including rape and manslaughter. The Saudis have bailed the suspects out of jail, hired lawyers to defend them, arranged their travel home and covered their forfeited bonds, the officials said.
[Oregon Senator Ron] Wyden voiced particular outrage about the case of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old Portland girl who was struck and killed by the speeding car of a Saudi college student in 2016.
That student, Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, was freed from a Portland jail after the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles gave him $100,000 to cover his $1 million bail. He surrendered his passport and driver’s license to Homeland Security officials. But on a Saturday afternoon in June 2017, two weeks before Noorah was to go on trial for manslaughter, a large, black SUV picked him up at the home where he was staying and spirited him away. His ankle monitoring bracelet was later found by the roadside; a week later, he was back in Saudi Arabia — a fact that the authorities in Oregon did not learn until more than a year later.
National security officials said that system began to operate more frequently and sometimes more aggressively as the number of Saudi students in the United States grew. In one such case, Saudi officials put up $65,000 to cover the $650,000 bond of an 18-year-old student, Ali Alhamoud, after he was jailed on charges of raping a young woman in a small town near the Oregon coast. Within hours after he was bailed out of jail, Alhamoud boarded a plane and flew home, court records show.
In 2014, Abdullah Almakrami fled from Milwaukee after he had been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and false imprisonment. Although his passport had been seized, he surfaced months later in Saudi Arabia, where he posted comments on a social media account about food and the weather.
The following year, the Saudi Consulate put up the $500,000 bail for Waleed Ali Alharthi, a student at Oregon State University who was found to have a cache of child pornography on his computer and was charged with 10 counts of encouraging child sexual abuse. Although the court had confiscated his passport, Alharthi escaped to Mexico City — somehow obtaining a new passport along the way — and investigators believe he flew to Paris on his way back to the kingdom, officials say.
It is generally not possible to leave the United States by plane without a passport. National security officials said it was implausible that young Saudis on the run could obtain replacement passports or travel into Mexico by land without help. They suspect that Saudi operatives accompany or guide the fugitives.
But Fawn Lengvenis, the mother of the 15-year-old girl struck and killed in Portland, Fallon Smart, said the government had left her family and other Americans vulnerable to a different kind of threat.
“It’s heartbreaking to learn that our government has, for over a decade, known that the Saudi government has helped so many Saudi students charged with serious crimes skip bail and escape back to Saudi Arabia without any accountability,” she said in a statement.
There are currently about 80,000 Saudi students enrolled in US colleges. This is a cash cow for colleges since they (or the Saudi government) pay full tuition. As a result, these students seem to feel a sense of entitlement, that they can get away with actions that would result in punishment if done by anyone else. Couple this with the willingness of the Saudi government to intervene on their behalf and prevent them being brought to justice, and you can see how this breeds in them a sense of immunity, that they can do what they like and get away with it.
The idea that the US ignores these actions because it needs “Saudi cooperation in the fight against Islamist terrorism” is laughable because the particular form of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam that emanates from Saudi Arabia has been identified as the source of much of the extremist ideology that has motivated terrorist actions around the globe. Let us never forget that Osama bin Laden was the scion of a well-connected and influential Saudi family and that nearly all of the attackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals.