Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been named as prime minister of the country, a move critics say is designed to protect him from a potentially damaging lawsuit in the US in connection to his alleged role in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi officials announced that King Salman, who up until now had also held the role of prime minister, was making an exception to Saudi law and appointing his son to the position.
The decision is not likely to alter the balance of power in the country, where the 37-year-old prince is already seen as the de facto leader.
But critics say the timing of the decision is almost certainly linked to an upcoming court-ordered deadline in the US, in a case brought by Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
The Biden administration had already been asked by a judge in the case whether the position of crown prince would offer sovereign immunity, a protection usually granted to a world leader such as a president, prime minister or king. With the appointment of bin Salman as prime minister the question now appears moot.
The White House did not immediately comment on the appointment. Although Prince Mohammed has denied any personal involvement in the Khashoggi murder, assessments from US intelligence found that the future king was likely to have ordered the killing.