By Mehmet Emin Caliskan and Osman Orsal
YALOVA, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkish police searched a remote villa in a coastal area southeast of Istanbul on Monday as part of the investigation into the killing last month of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, officials said.
Authorities believe that one of the Saudi agents allegedly involved in the murder at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, Mansour Othman Abahussain, called the villa’s owner a day before the killing, the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said.
The owner of the property is a Saudi national, Mohammed Ahmed Alfaozan, who had the codename “Ghozan”, it said. Two officials told Reuters that Alfaozan had purchased the property, near Yalova on the Sea of Marmara, around three years ago.
The phone call was believed to be about the destruction or disappearance of the body parts, the prosecutor’s office said.
Police used sniffer dogs to search the garden of the villa and the nearby wooded area, according to Reuters cameramen at the scene. Officials told Reuters last month that Khashoggi’s killers may have dumped his remains at a rural location near Yalova, which is a 90-km (55 mile) drive southeast of Istanbul.
They had halted the search on Monday evening.
Authorities have previously carried out inspections at the kingdom’s consulate and the consul general’s residence in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the killing of the journalist, a Washington Post columnist and a prominent critic of the Saudi government.
Khashoggi’s killing has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West and battered the image overseas of its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh later said Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has said the killing was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership but probably not from King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on the 33-year-old crown prince.
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week Washington would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia despite saying that Prince Mohammed may have known about the plan to murder Khashoggi.
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Editing by David Dolan, William Maclean)