By Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey rejected on Monday a French accusation that President Tayyip Erdogan was playing political games over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it appeared that France was trying to cover up the crime.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had questioned remarks by Erdogan at the weekend in which he said Turkey gave tapes relating to Khashoggi’s killing to the United States, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France and Britain.
Le Drian said he was not aware that France had any tapes. Asked if Erdogan was lying, he said: “He has a political game to play in these circumstances”.
That prompted a furious response from Ankara, which insisted it had shared evidence with Paris and said Le Drian’s comments were unacceptable.
“Our intelligence shared information with them on Oct 24, including the voice recordings,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “It is very impudent for them to accuse our president of playing political games.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if soon France chooses to deny this murder, even though Saudi Arabia already confessed,” he told reporters. “What’s behind the remarks of the French foreign minister? I wonder if they are trying to cover up the murder.”
Khashoggi, a critic of de facto Saudi ruler Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate last month in a hit which Erdogan says was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.
Saudi authorities have acknowledged that the killing was premeditated, but his body has not been found.
The dispute between Ankara and Paris may hinge on Erdogan’s account that Turkey “gave” recordings to the other countries. Turkish officials said instead that France had been allowed to hear a recording, and blamed France for the misunderstanding.
“If there is miscommunication between the French government’s various agencies, it is up to the French authorities – not Turkey — to take care of that problem,” Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday Canadian intelligence officers have also listened to recordings of what happened to Khashoggi.
“We are in discussions with our like-minded allies as to the next steps with regard to Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau said.
Khashoggi’s murder provoked international outrage but little concrete action by world powers against Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a supporter of Washington’s plans to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.
CIA director Gina Haspel heard an audio recording of Khashoggi’s death when she visited Istanbul, two sources told Reuters last month. U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdogan have discussed how to respond to the killing.
(Reporting by Richard Lough in Paris and Ali Kucukgocmen, Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul; Editing by Dominic Evans, Richard Balmforth)