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Saudi Embassy Has Helped Its Citizens Facing Criminal Charges Flee the United States
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=47441"><span class="small">Shane Harris, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Thursday, 17 June 2021 08:28

Harris writes: "On the night of Oct. 13, 2018, Raekwon Moore was stabbed during a street fight with two strangers in the popular Uptown district of Greenville, N.C."

Latavia Little holds a teddy bear her son Raekwon got her for Valentine's Day while standing next to his memorial at her home in Greenville, N.C. (photo: Eamon Queeney/The Washington Post)
Latavia Little holds a teddy bear her son Raekwon got her for Valentine's Day while standing next to his memorial at her home in Greenville, N.C. (photo: Eamon Queeney/The Washington Post)

Saudi Embassy Has Helped Its Citizens Facing Criminal Charges Flee the United States

By Shane Harris, The Washington Post

17 June 21


n the night of Oct. 13, 2018, Raekwon Moore was stabbed during a street fight with two strangers in the popular Uptown district of Greenville, N.C. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died. Police quickly apprehended and questioned Abdullah Hariri and Sultan Alsuhaymi, both citizens of Saudi Arabia, whom eyewitnesses and surveillance camera footage placed at the scene of the Saturday night brawl.

Initially, police thought the men may have acted in self-defense and released them from custody. After further investigation, prosecutors charged both with first-degree murder.

But Hariri and Alsuhaymi will probably never stand trial, because days after their alleged crime and before they were charged, they left the country and returned to Saudi Arabia, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

The murder charges against Hariri and Alsuhaymi are the most serious known against dozens of Saudi citizens, many of them students, who are wanted in the United States; their alleged offenses include first-degree manslaughter, vehicular hit-and-run, rape and possession of child pornography. Many fled to their homeland with the assistance of Saudi officials, and for some, their path out of the United States was eased by the negligence of prosecutors or police who failed to consider flight risk. The Greenville police didn’t ask Hariri or Alsuhaymi to stay in the country, according to the police department, apparently assuming they would be able to continue to question the Saudi men as the investigation developed.

Travel records obtained by The Washington Post show that Alsuhaymi flew out of Dulles International Airport on Oct. 17, 2018, four days after he allegedly stabbed and killed Moore. It’s not clear whether Hariri was on the same flight.

The Saudi government’s assistance to its citizens who are accused of violent crimes has drawn scrutiny from federal law enforcement and condemnation from members of Congress.

The FBI has concluded that Saudi government officials “almost certainly assist US-based Saudi citizens in fleeing the United States to avoid legal issues, undermining the US judicial process,” according to an intelligence bulletin issued in August 2019, which was declassified following legislation written by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to extract more information on the Saudi government’s role.

At the Saudi Embassy in Washington, that assistance has been overseen by a mid-level official who has managed a network of American criminal defense lawyers and self-described “fixers” paid to keep Saudis charged with crimes out of prison, an investigation by The Post has found.

This network has provided traditional consular services such as arranging for bail, interpreters and legal representation for people accused of violent crimes. But it has also gone far beyond the traditional role of embassies and helped the accused evade court-ordered probation, and arranged for travel and flights out of the United States when Saudi nationals have absconded from justice, according to interviews with more than a dozen individuals, as well as hundreds of pages of U.S. court documents, Saudi legal forms and international travel records.

“The embassy’s preference is that no one spend time in jail in the U.S.,” said one person who has worked for the Saudi network and, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation. “And if a case has mandatory jail time, there’s a lot of pressure to get them out of the country.”

In Virginia, Hussam Aleidi, who had been enrolled as a student at Radford University, is wanted for violating the terms of his probation after he was convicted on charges including assault in 2018. People familiar with his case said he returned to Saudi Arabia with the embassy’s help.

There is currently a warrant for Aleidi’s arrest, according to court records and a prosecutor in Prince Edward County.

It is a federal crime to flee the United States to avoid criminal prosecution, including under state law.

“If the Saudi Embassy decides to spirit someone out of the country, there’s a facilitator, someone not connected to the embassy, to arrange travel,” said the person who has worked with the Saudis. If the accused is living near Washington, “usually it’s a one-way ticket out of Dulles.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Attempts to reach Alsuhaymi, Hariri and Aleidi were unsuccessful.

Saudi officials, the FBI said in its bulletin, “perceive the embarrassment of Saudi citizens enduring the US judicial process is greater than the embarrassment of the United States learning the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] surreptitiously removes citizens with legal problems from the United States.”

A December 2019 advisory from the Justice Department’s criminal division warned about foreign governments “providing monetary aid to enable the posting of bail, help in obtaining or replacing travel documents, or arranging undetected travel outside the United States. Such assistance could occur at any time: in anticipation of arrest, while pending trial, or even after conviction.”

The advisory doesn’t mention Saudi Arabia by name. But a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said it was aimed at Saudi citizens fleeing the country, which had happened so often that it prompted the department to warn prosecutors. The advisory offered to help prosecutors “in developing arguments” to keep the accused in jail if they were seeking bail or release.

For years, U.S. officials have declined to confront Saudi Arabia, a close ally and partner in counterterrorism operations, according to articles in the Oregonian, which identified Saudis who have fled justice in Oregon and at least seven other states, as well as Canada.

But recently, the Biden administration has demanded that the kingdom stop helping accused criminals flee.

In meetings with their Saudi counterparts, senior State Department officials have “made clear that such individuals must face proceedings in the United States and that any Saudi government interference with the integrity of the U.S. criminal justice system is unacceptable,” Naz Durakoglu, the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, wrote in a letter to Wyden in March.

The letter also revealed that the Saudi government implicitly acknowledged helping its citizens escape, contradicting years of denials. Saudi officials have long maintained that they do not help their citizens evade justice or leave the United States to avoid charges or prison.

“The Saudi government has confirmed it has enjoined its foreign missions from providing travel documents or other support to Saudi citizens facing criminal proceedings in the United States that would help them abscond from the criminal justice system in the United States,” Durakoglu’s letter said.

Wyden, who has been one of the most prominent investigators in Congress of the Saudi escapes, called it “flagrantly unacceptable for Saudi officials to help someone accused of assault or murder flee the country and evade justice.”

“If any employee of the Saudi Embassy helps Saudis evade or undermine the U.S. justice system, they ought to be immediately expelled and permanently banned from the country at a bare minimum,” Wyden said in an interview.

A Saudi student abroad

Many Saudis charged with violent crimes were in the United States to study at colleges or universities. Hundreds of thousands of young Saudis have enrolled at American institutions of higher learning over the decades. In 2018, the Saudi government reported that about 60,000 of its citizens were studying in the United States.

Alsuhaymi, who is now 26, had received a full scholarship from the Saudi government, which included a monthly stipend of just over $1,700, to attend college in the United States, according to documents issued by the Saudi Embassy and obtained by The Post. His F-1 student visa, a copy of which The Post also obtained, required him to be enrolled full time in a program or course of study culminating in a degree, diploma or certificate. The visa indicates that he was enrolled at Morgan State University in Baltimore, the largest historically Black university in Maryland.

Morgan State does not disclose students’ records without their consent, so Alsuhaymi’s status could not be verified.

He was also assigned a student adviser at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, a government agency that acts as an intermediary with U.S. educational institutions and is supposed to keep track of the students while they complete their courses.

The Saudi adviser, Manal Elmenshawy, said she had no knowledge of Alsuhaymi.

“I do not know who this person is,” Elmenshawy said by email. “Even if I was listed [as the adviser] in 2018, it does not matter. Students move around all the time and [are] reassigned to new advisers.”

Alsuhaymi rented a room in a house in Baltimore, according to his landlord. A few months after Alsuhaymi moved in, a friend joined him and showed the landlord an official document verifying his status as a student and his source of income from the Saudi government. The landlord said she didn’t recall the friend’s name.

On Sept. 29, 2018, Alsuhaymi told his landlord that he was moving to North Carolina. She said Alsuhaymi and his friend left together. Not long after, she received a call asking for a tenant reference for Alsuhaymi. Public records show that around this time, he listed his residence as an apartment in Greenville, near the campus of East Carolina University. An official at the school said Alsuhaymi was never enrolled there.

A killing in North Carolina

The Post was unable to learn if it was Hariri who joined Alsuhaymi in Baltimore, or where he might have studied. But a few weeks after Alsuhaymi moved away, he and Hariri were walking together along Fifth Street in Greenville, according to local police.

A black GMC Yukon stopped at an intersection. The windows were down, and Raekwon Moore, 22, was inside, rapping along with a song on the radio, said two people who were riding with him.

Moore repeated an explicit lyric, which caught the Saudi men’s attention.

“I guess they thought he [Moore] was talking to them,” said Myaa Langley, Moore’s aunt, who was in the back seat. “They walked up to the truck. My nephew told the driver to turn down the volume so he could hear.”

One of the men on the street “started talking trash” to Moore, said his brother, Rashee Little, who was also riding in back. “My brother talked trash back.”

That man, who police accounts indicate was Alsuhaymi, threw a water bottle in Moore’s face, his relatives said. Moore jumped out of the car and confronted him.

“He got out so quick,” said Langley, who yelled at Moore to stay in the vehicle. Moore and Alsuhaymi fought, and the others in the Yukon got out and fought with the other man, whom police later identified as Hariri, she said.

Langley said Alsuhaymi took a swing at Moore. “I didn’t know he had anything in his hand. When Raekwon walked away, I saw the knife. Then he fell back. We ran to him. He was bleeding from his chest.”

Alsuhaymi and Hariri ran from the scene, according to witnesses and police.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m., Greenville police officers arrived, responding to reports of a fight, according to a police statement. Moore was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died. Officers located Alsuhaymi and Hariri a few blocks from the crime scene and took them into custody, but they were not placed under arrest.

Detectives with Greenville’s major crimes division consulted with the district attorney and decided to release the two men, because the stabbing was initially investigated as a case of potential self-defense, Kristen Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Greenville police, told The Post. Surveillance video showed that Moore and others in the SUV had jumped out and assaulted Alsuhaymi and Hariri, she said.

Over the next few days, Greenville detectives communicated with both men “several times” in person and over the phone, Hunter said.

The men’s families in Saudi Arabia pressed the embassy to help, and embassy officials sought legal representation for the two men almost immediately, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. As Greenville police continued their investigation, Alsuhaymi and Hariri learned they were likely to be charged in Moore’s death, this person said.

Around that time, the Greenville police officers who had been speaking to Alsuhaymi and Hariri “lost contact with them,” Hunter said.

It’s not clear what evidence persuaded Greenville officials that the men had not acted in self-defense; the case files are sealed. But by the time the district attorney took the matter to a grand jury, which returned two first-degree murder indictments Dec. 10, 2018, Alsuhaymi and Hariri were long gone.

The person with knowledge of their departure said the Saudi Embassy arranged for Alsuhaymi’s and Hariri’s flights out of the United States.

Greenville authorities have said that at the time the men left, neither had been charged with a crime, so their names weren’t forwarded to federal authorities to prevent them from leaving the country.

Moore’s mother, Latavia Little, said she initially knew nothing of Alsuhaymi and Hariri. They weren’t identified publicly until they were charged. When Little learned their names, she said, she went to their last known address in Greenville. She found no sign of either man.

The authorities “told me they fled the country and if they came back, there would be ‘red flags,’ ” Little said, meaning authorities would be alerted because the men were now listed as wanted in a federal database.

Moore was the second youngest of Little’s five children. “He was a good person,” she said. “He was the clown of the family, made people laugh, kept people smiling.”

A news release issued by the Greenville police the day after the killing implied that Moore and the driver of the Yukon had started the altercation when they got out of the vehicle and “began assaulting two other individuals. During the dispute, one of the individuals stabbed Moore.”

The news release made no mention of a verbal altercation between Moore and the men or that one of them had allegedly thrown a water bottle in Moore’s face.

“They made it seem like he started it,” Little said of initial press reports, which were based on police statements.

The Saudis' men in Washington

When Saudis have found themselves in trouble with U.S. law enforcement, Bader Alomair has been one of the first people to hear about it. As a lawyer in the Saudi Embassy in Washington at the time Moore was killed, Alomair coordinated legal assistance for Saudi citizens in at least seven states, including North Carolina and Virginia, according to several people who have worked with him.

Alomair did not respond to emails, text messages and phone calls seeking comment for this story, and embassy spokespersons did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with him.

Alomair is not a senior official. People who have worked with him described him as a mid-level bureaucrat who answers to higher authorities, including a more senior lawyer in the embassy, as well officials responsible for intelligence and national security issues.

One person with ties to the embassy said officials with the General Intelligence Presidency, Saudi Arabia’s primary intelligence agency, have been involved in responding to cases of students who face criminal charges.

But Alomair is the working-level point man in the Washington embassy. “He is chiefly responsible for finding legal representation for Saudi students who need criminal representation” in the states he oversees, one person who has worked with Alomair said.

Alomair was involved in trying to find legal representation for Alsuhaymi and Hariri after they were initially questioned by police, said a second person who has worked with him. There is no indication the men were ever represented by a lawyer.

Alomair has also been in charge of procuring airline travel, chauffeured ground transportation and hotel accommodations for Saudis in the United States, according to an embassy document shared with The Post.

In the case of Hussam Aleidi, the Radford University student who is charged with violating his probation, Alomair instructed a driver working for the embassy to take him to Dulles Airport, this person said.

In assisting Saudis in the United States, including with routine legal matters, Alomair has relied on a group of American criminal defense lawyers who specialize in drunken-driving and drug possession cases and immigration law.

One of them is Edward Moawad, an immigration lawyer who has kept offices in Chevy Chase, Md., and McLean, Va., where Alomair frequently visited, said several of Moawad’s former co-workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by their former boss and the Saudi government.

“A lot of our cases were Saudi students,” said one former co-worker at Moawad’s firm, which has since been dissolved. Most of the cases involved routine immigration matters or charges of driving under the influence or drug possession, the former co-worker said. “And all those cases came from the embassy.”

People who have worked with Moawad said that in addition to his immigration practice, he has helped to arrange assistance for Saudi nationals accused of crimes. This work has included finding and paying American lawyers on the embassy’s behalf, they said.

Moawad “was the bank. He cut the checks,” said one person who has been paid to perform services for Saudis who have been arrested.

Two people who worked with Moawad said they were aware of Saudi nationals charged with crimes, whom he assisted, that later left the United States. One of those was Aleidi, one of these people said. Moawad provided updates on Aleidi’s court proceedings to Alomair, who ultimately helped arrange the student’s return to Saudi Arabia, this person said.

While the Saudi government has tried to have little visible involvement with fugitive nationals, the Saudis who stand accused of crimes are under no illusions about who is aiding them. Neither are their attorneys. The accused sign forms requesting the embassy to arrange for legal representation, as well as bail, according to a copy of one standard form, obtained by The Post. It’s not unusual for foreign governments to help arrange legal assistance for their citizens charged in the United States.

In an email, Moawad’s attorney, Bernard DiMuro, said that “on advice of counsel,” Moawad declined to comment about his work for the Saudi government and its citizens and his relationship with the Saudi Embassy.

Lawmakers continue to press for the return of fugitive Saudi nationals.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Saudi government’s assistance to accused criminals was “antithetical to our values and falls far short of what we can tolerate.”

“We need to continue recalibrating our relationship with the Saudis to ensure accountability for these unacceptable actions — including by expelling any Saudi diplomats involved in this lawless conduct,” Schiff said in a statement to The Post.

Wyden, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and has worked closely with Schiff and House lawmakers, called on the Biden administration not to take the Saudis “at their word” that they will stop their citizens from fleeing.

“You’ve got to hold the country accountable,” Wyden said. “I am going to press the Biden administration at every single opportunity to make sure justice is done here.” your social media marketing partner