October 17, 2019

Senate Passes Wyden Bill to Provide Answers About Saudi Fugitives

Wyden bill requires FBI to declassify any information regarding Saudi Arabia’s possible role helping Saudi nationals escape justice in the U.S.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today passed a bill requiring the FBI to declassify any and all information regarding Saudi Arabia’s possible role helping its citizens escape the U.S. while awaiting trial or sentencing for a criminal offense, following an impassioned speech on the Senate floor.

“The American people deserve answers. These are not academic matters, and this is not about a series of victimless crimes,” Wyden said. “This is about manslaughter, rape and more. This is about real people, real families, who have suffered immeasurable pain. They deserve to see justice served. When individuals charged with egregious, violent crimes manage to escape – and when the United States government fails to do much of anything about it – it undermines public safety and harms the U.S. justice system.” 

Wyden introduced the Saudi Fugitive Declassification Act of 2019, which passed the Senate today by unanimous consent.

In January 2019, Wyden introduced two bills with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to crack down on any foreign countries that help alleged criminals escape accountability in the U.S. – the ESCAPE of Saudi Nationals Act and the Preserving American Justice Act.

These legislative efforts follow reporting from The Oregonian uncovering a pattern of Saudi nationals evading the American justice system in Oregon, allegedly with help from the Saudi Arabian government. Subsequent reporting has shown similar cases across North America spanning decades.

A full version of Wyden’s prepared floor speech is available below:

Mr. President, I’ve come to the floor today to fight for answers. Answers that are long overdue. In 2018, my hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, identified a handful of cases where Saudi nationals accused of serious crimes in the U.S.—like manslaughter and sexual assault—fled the country and escaped American justice.

Since then, The Oregonian has identified numerous similar cases. In fact almost two dozen such cases across the United States. That includes nineteen in just the last seven years. Today I want to tell the Senate about one of those cases.

Three years ago, not far from my home in Southeast Portland, a young woman had her life taken from her. Fallon Smart was then a rising sophomore at Franklin High School and she was aspiring to be a teacher. By all accounts she would’ve been a terrific teacher. She was 15 years old and according to everyone who knew her, Fallon was warm and smart and friendly. She had her whole life ahead of her. According to police, she was crossing the street in front of stopped traffic when a vehicle illegally swerved into the left hand lane and hit her at 55 or 60 miles per hour.

Her mom was in a car half a block away and ran to her daughter. Fallon died in her mother’s arms, and the car that hit her just sped away.

A Saudi Arabian college student named Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah later returned to the scene and was arrested. He was eventually charged with manslaughter in Fallon’s death, and then released on $1 million bail. The Saudi consulate posted his $100,000 bond, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

Mr. President, in the United States there was every expectation that Mr. Noorah would get a fair shake from the justice system. And the justice system was working the right way here. Until two weeks before Mr. Noorah was scheduled to go to trial, his tracking bracelet was cut, and he disappeared.

Mr. Noorah has never stood trial for Fallon Smart’s death.

Eventually, this spring, the State Department confirmed in a letter to me that Mr. Noorah had returned to Saudi Arabia. And I felt then as I do today, that this raises a serious question: How does a foreign national charged with manslaughter, whose passport was seized, disappear from the U.S. without a trace? How does this person escape the country and make it thousands of miles back to Saudi Arabia with there being no record of his doing so?

News reports in 2018 suggest that the Saudi Arabian government knew about Mr. Noorah and these other fugitives, and potentially helped them flee justice.

Mr. President, I have five children. I cannot imagine the grief I would feel if one of them was taken from me and the person responsible somehow managed to evade the justice system. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the anger and frustration and helplessness that any parent would feel in a situation like this.

I met with Fallon’s mom, Fawn, and while she and all of Fallon’s loved ones have borne this miscarriage of justice with extraordinary grace, they are just heartbroken. In addition to being heartbroken, they are outraged by the notion that the person charged with killing their daughter may have escaped scot-free and face no consequences for his actions.

Since last year, I have been demanding information from the administration. In my view, the victims of these crimes, their families and the American people are owed some essential answers. How did this happen? What is the United States government doing about it?

I have written the Department of Justice. I have written the State Department. I have written to Customs and Border Protection. I have written to the U.S. Marshals Service. I have written to the Department of Homeland Security. As far as I could tell, I’d have gotten better answers from the Saudi Royal family themselves.

In fact, when I asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo what he was doing to try to return Saudi fugitives to the United States, his department basically shrugged its shoulders. I sent him a letter last December. He didn’t respond. So I sent him another letter in February. I said the State Department needs to use all of its resources and all the tools at its disposal to hold the Saudi government accountable. I asked whether our ambassador had pressed the Saudi government about this disturbing pattern of Saudi nationals skipping bail.

The State Department finally did respond to my second letter. What we got was a whole lot of nothing. One of Mr. Pompeo’s aides said that without an extradition treaty, there wasn’t really anything they could do about it. This is from a secretary who tried to rebrand State as the “Department of Swagger”. That swagger was nowhere to be found when it was time to protect innocent Americans. 

Today, I am not writing a letter. I’m here, on the Senate floor, asking for action. Action today. I am seeking unanimous consent to pass the Saudi Fugitive Declassification Act of 2019. My bill requires that the FBI Director, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, would quickly declassify any and all information related to a key question: Whether the government of Saudi Arabia helped any Saudi nationals escape the country when those Saudi nationals were awaiting trial or sentencing for a criminal offense in the United States.

I believe what I am asking here today must happen in the name of justice immediately.

The American people deserve answers. The people I represent at home, in our neighborhood of Southeast Portland deserve answers. These are not academic matters, this is not about a series of victimless crimes.

This is about manslaughter, it’s about rape and more. This is about real people, real families, who have suffered immeasurable pain. They deserve to see justice served. When individuals who are charged with violent crimes manage to escape – and when the United States government fails to do much of anything about it – it undermines public safety and harms the U.S. justice system.

If, as some of the press stories have suggested, the Saudi government has helped these alleged criminals escape justice, the American people have the right to be doubly concerned. Is the public image of Saudi Arabia a higher priority than the safety of American citizens?

Any action by a foreign government to thwart our criminal justice system would be an attack on our national security and our sovereignty. If that is what has happened, then all Americans deserve to know.

So, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of the Saudi Fugitive Declassification Act, introduced earlier today; further, that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; the bill be considered, read a third time and passed; and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate.