The Saudi Arabian government Thursday offered its most forceful denial yet of allegations that it has helped Saudi students studying in the U.S. skip bail and flee the country while facing criminal charges.
“The notion that the Saudi government actively helps citizens evade justice after they have been implicated in legal wrongdoing in the U.S. is not true,” said the statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. “Contrary to some media reports, Saudi diplomatic missions in the United States do not issue travel documents to citizens engaged in legal proceedings.”
An embassy spokesperson released the statement to CNN in response to a report by the network that reviewed the findings of an Oregonian investigation.
The rebuttal comes as federal law enforcement officials this week launched a multi-agency investigation into how a growing number of Saudi students accused of serious crimes escaped prosecution.
The Oregonian has found cases in at least eight different states of students vanishing after being charged with serious crimes, including manslaughter and sexual assault.
The revelations have generated national attention and prompted U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrats, to seek answers on Capitol Hill.
In five Oregon cases, the suspects all were young men studying at a public college or university with assistance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the time of their arrest.
In at least four of those cases, the Saudi government paid the defendant’s bail and legal fees.
Three surrendered their passports. U.S. authorities confirmed at least two returned to Saudi Arabia.
Two of the students in Oregon were accused of rape, two with hit-and-run driving and one was accused of having a trove of child pornography on his computer.
Officials with the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security told The Oregonian last year they believe the Saudi government helped at least one of these suspects, Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, flee the U.S. before his 2017 trial in the hit-and-run death of a Portland teen.
Prosecutors in Ohio allege Saudi officials helped orchestrate the escape of a manslaughter suspect in 1988.
Wyden and Merkley are demanding to know whether the Saudi government has played a role in the disappearance of the other fugitives.
The government noted that hundreds of thousands of Saudi nationals have studied in the U.S. since the 1960s.
“The overwhelming majority of Saudi students enjoy productive stays in the United States, and many have contributed positively to their local communities,” the statement said.
“These cases represent clear aberrations and are not a reflection on the large Saudi student population in the country, the overwhelming majority of which is law-abiding.”
The embassy’s statement said:
“The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and all of its officials strictly adhere to all U.S. laws while inside the United States.
The Saudi government also advises all of its citizens to strictly observe the laws and regulations of whichever country they visit or reside in.
When a Saudi citizen is incarcerated in the U.S. and contacts the Saudi Embassy or a consulate seeking legal assistance, the embassy or consulate will assist the citizen by posting bail and retaining counsel.