Turkish intelligence reportedly have audio and video recordings from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Jamal Khashoggi’s Saudi captors can be heard interrogating, torturing, and ultimately murdering him.
US officials have been told by their Turkish counterparts that the recordings prove beyond doubt that the Saudi journalist was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi operatives, according to the Washington Post, for whom Mr Khashoggi wrote a column.
Turkey has not released the recordings nor officially confirmed that they exist, although pro-government Turkish media has alluded to them several times in recent days.
Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied that it was involved in Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance on October 2 and has insisted that he left the consulate safely after filing paperwork related to his upcoming marriage.
However, as anger towards Riyadh mounted in Washington and Turkish officials claimed to have comprehensive evidence of Saudi guilt, there were some indications the Saudi position may be shifting.
Turkey announced on Thursday that it had accepted a Saudi offer to form a joint investigation into the case, a sign of a possible thaw between the two sides after more than a week of standoff.
The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, also abruptly returned home for consultations. “We expect some information when he gets back,” said Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the US State Department.
On the recordings, the Saudi men can reportedly be heard questioning Mr Khashoggi in Arabic. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered,” one person told the Post.
The recordings also reportedly show that members of the 15-man squad went from the Saudi consulate building to the nearby residence of the Saudi consul-general.
Turkish investigators believe that Mr Khashoggi’s body may have been disposed of at the residence.
Turkish media reported that police were also interested in a Saudi diplomatic van which went for a long drive on the eastern side of Istanbul, where there is less CCTV coverage, on the day of the disappearance.
The fallout from the journalist’s disappearance continued to batter the reformist image of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who has presented himself as a modernising force in the conservative kingdom.
Sir Richard Branson said he was suspending business dealings with the Saudi government until Mr Khashoggi’s fate is known.
“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government,” he said in a statement.
A number of high-profile media figures have pulled out of Crown Prince Mohammed’s annual conference, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert”, amid the allegations.
A tech executive and a former US energy secretary both stepped back from an advisory board on a new high-tech city Crown Prince Mohammed is building.