University students from Saudi Arabia have disappeared while facing criminal charges in at least eight states as well as Canada — evidence that a growing number of defendants from the wealthy Persian Gulf kingdom have fled justice in the United States.

The revelations, first reported by our newspaper, have generated international headlines and prompted a federal investigation. They also raise questions about the role the Saudi government may have played in assisting some of its citizens escape.

Reporter Shane Dixon Kavanaugh here to answer any questions you might have about our investigative series.

Our original story:

Link to full coverage:

Short explainer video:


EDIT: OK it is 12:11 p.m. and our time is up. We will try to get to those last few before we officially sign off. Thanks for all the questions. You can hit us up on Twitter if you have anything else you want to discuss. Thanks!

Comments: 865 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

SparePapaya768 karma

What's up with the defense attorney Ginger Mooney who represents these Saudi men? Why is there a pattern of her being assigned to their case and shortly after they disappear?

oregonian656 karma

That's probably a question best asked for Ms. Mooney or the attorney she's hired to represent her. To be clear, she has not been accused of any wrongdoing at this time and has also represented a number of other criminal cases in Oregon involving Saudi students that did not end with the defendant disappearing.

My colleague Noelle Crombie published a story last month with a bit more information about Mooney, her legal practice and the threats she's received since our story ran:

najing_ftw622 karma

What are some of the stories you heard from the victims that didn’t make the articles?

oregonian1024 karma

The vast majority of alleged crimes committed in these cases have involved rape or sexual assault. Court records and police reports have often provided extremely detailed accounts of those alleged attacks. They are not for the faint of heart.

A_Feathered_Raptor349 karma

Do you know of other similar stories from the past few decades? And have those been resolved?

oregonian648 karma

As of today, we've published accounts of 17 cases in eight states and Canada where university students from Saudi Arabia accused of serious crimes have escaped or disappeared while facing criminal charges. We're currently looking into many additional cases around the U.S. that appear similar to ones we've reported on already.

A_Feathered_Raptor182 karma

Thank you for the response!

I had no idea it was a trend, this is legitimately disturbing. I hope your investigation uncovers more and they're brought to justice.

oregonian284 karma

I can tell you that our list of 17 will likely grow and we'll have a few more documented cases added by the end of this week.

Doimakeurandy311309 karma

Do you believe our government is involved?

oregonian482 karma

That's a great question. And one we're seeking to answer as we continue our reporting on this topic. Other important questions: Who in the U.S. government has known about these disappearances (which stretch back as far back as 1988)? And for how long?

marlkarxIV301 karma

Have you received threats or contact from the Saudi government itself?

oregonian525 karma

Our news organization has received no threats at this time for our reporting. We've reached out to the Saudi Arabian Embassy multiple times as well as the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, which provided bail money to a number of the defendants here in Oregon. To date, we've only received a single statement from the embassy. But no other contact.

hurtsdonut_126 karma

What was the statement?

oregonian347 karma

The Saudi Embassy provided this statement to us on Jan. 25 after Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced they had introduced legislation in Congress as a response to the findings in our reporting:

"As per Saudi policies, when a Saudi citizen is incarcerated in the US and reaches out to the Embassy or Consulate to post bail, the Embassy or Consulate will cover the bail costs on behalf of the citizen as was done in the case of Mr. Noorah. However, no travel document was issued by the Embassy or Consulate for Mr. Noorah.  Furthermore, the Saudi government advises all its citizens to strictly observe the laws and regulations of every country they visit or reside in."

The Saudi Embassy provided an even more detailed statement to CNN last week, which did a story on The Oregonian's reporting. You can read that full statement here.

Anna_Namoose198 karma

Of those that disappeared, have any returned to the US after the statute of limitations have expired?

oregonian389 karma

None of the 17 defendants we've provided accounts of at this time have attempted to return to the U.S. We have come across other criminal cases where a Saudi defendant that left the U.S. later returns. It also appears that in a few of the cases we've reported on, the defendant has later contacted a college or university to inquire about returning...

Anna_Namoose146 karma

Thank you. You work is appreciated

oregonian131 karma

Thanks for following our reporting!

MeatySoup127 karma


oregonian216 karma

That's tough to say, since details about most of these individual suspects are in short supply. I will point out that the Saudi scholarship program that most of these students were a part of is available to citizens of all economic backgrounds.

Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, the student accused in the fatal hit-and-run of Portland teen Fallon Smart, came from a middle class family and was raised by his mother and grandmother, according to court records and people who knew him. So it appears that Noorah did not come from a particularly well-connected or prominent Saudi family.

The Saudi government has now also said that it will provide money for bail and legal services to any of its citizens accused of crimes in the U.S. who ask for help.

tugfaxd5597 karma

Do you feel safe on your work? It is really difficult to be a reporter treating a polemic theme at Mexico. Pretty insecure and people can be killed.

oregonian179 karma

Working as a reporter has its occupational hazards. The current political climate in both the U.S. and abroad has made that work even more difficult.

tiger_streak93 karma

I really like some of the content you guys are putting out on youtube, The Ghosts of Highway 20 doc was really interesting. How do I get involved with your team? I am a seasoned videographer and portland native.

oregonian95 karma

That's a question well above my pay grade. You might send a query letter and CV to [email protected]

elmadrigal85 karma


As a Muslim international graduate from an Oregonian university, some of these cases I'm extremely familiar with and I'd like to honestly ask you how involved do you think the universities are in this situation? I know of at least two students who were allowed to continue their enrollment even after breaking academic regulations because their families made hefty donations to the university.

Is educational institutions involvement an angle you're working on?

oregonian3 karma

That's a great question, and one we're hoping to be able to answer as we continue our reporting. Meantime, you might want to check out this story from the University of Montana.

arandani75 karma

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in journalism like yours?

oregonian105 karma

I don't think I'm particularly well-suited for dispensing professional advice. Perhaps you can shoot me a note and I can try and answer any questions you might have? My contact information is on Twitter.

Jengus_Roundstone53 karma

I'm currently reading Jon Krakauer's book "Missoula". Have you investigated the case documented in his book, where the UM student who fled to Saudi Arabia after allegedly assaulting two woman on the same night?

oregonian2 karma

We have it flagged on our master list of cases and hope to have more info soon:

Unidentified man
Missoula County, Montana
Disappeared: February 2012

An unnamed University of Montana student from Saudi Arabia was accused of assaulting two women on a single day in February 2012. The campus newspaper, The Montana Kaimin, reported that one woman said the man forced her to drink something that incapacitated her, then raped her. The second woman said she escaped the man after he kissed her without consent. The women separately reported what happened to campus police. A university official contacted the man twice about the allegations, according to The Missoulian. He vanished within days, according to the paper. University leaders drew criticism for failing to tell local police about the allegations, which could have led to his arrest.

Noilol248 karma

What's your favorite food?

oregonian93 karma

Mexican food, though I haven't eaten a tortilla chip since Dec. 29, 2018.

WaffleSparks19 karma

I wonder what percent of defendants escape prosecution in general. Is the rate of Saudi defendants who escape prosecution higher or lower than the average, and by how much?

oregonian3 karma

These are important questions, and ones we hope to shed some light on at some point. One of the biggest challenges we've faced in our reporting is that there does not appear to be anyone in law enforcement or government tracking these cases in any comprehensive way that is publicly available. I presume the FBI could crunch some numbers at its National Crime Information Center. But it seems unlikely that they'd share that data with us or any other news organization for that matter.

Imadethis4things7 karma

What has been the US State Department response to inquiries about the issuance of new passports with different names by the Saudi Consulate to the arrested/charged/bailed suspects so that they can get out of the country without being detained?

oregonian3 karma

We've been asking the State Department to comment on our reporting and respond to detailed, specific questions about these cases for almost two months now. We've not received a single answer or response. Nor has the State Department responded to questions formally asked in December by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.

mrBroBeans3 karma

Have you seen progress or more focus on this issue after you published the findings?

Redditors, please upvote this post and bring it to the top. It is the only real way to improve the situation. While slow, publicity will bring progress. Someone with interest as well as power will eventually see it and take action. Publicity is the way to stop bad actors, where action is taken only when cost exceed benefit. This will not end with kind hearted politicians, but it will get more difficult once corrupt officials start loosing jobs and bribe rates go up. Either way, publicity will make Saudis pay directly or indirectly for such acts and it will eventually become too expensive. Otherwise, the hard and dangerous work of such journalists will go to waste.

Edit: Saudis here refer to few Saudi Arabia leaders who are effectively retaining their power by using cruel methods on their own citizens and forcing their ideologies onto their people. It is the regular people of Saudi Arabia who suffer the most from this behaviour and only publicity can bring slow progress.

oregonian3 karma

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (both from Oregon) have introduced legislation in Congress in response to our reporting. Last month, during a rare open intelligence committee meeting in Washington, Wyden asked the head of the FBI directly about these disappearances. Merkley has had a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan about the issue. And the feds have launched an investigation. So I'd say our reporting has gotten the attention of folks in D.C. Whether that leads to answers, policy changes, etc. remains to be seen.

rackfocus2 karma

I listened to your interview on NPR. Do you plan on expanding your investigation? Thank you for what you do.

oregonian2 karma

Yes. We're continuing to report on this story, both here in Oregon and nationally. In fact, The Oregonian is partnering with investigative news nonprofit ProPublica to expand our coverage and augment our reporting resources.

stealfire12 karma

Did their Governments aid in their disappearance?

oregonian2 karma

Federal law enforcement officials and prosecutors believe some of the defendants received help from Saudi government to escape prosecution.

mikeman4422 karma

How do you plan to avoid assassination?

oregonian2 karma

As of right now, I'm relying on the immortal words of Hulk Hogan (pre-scandals): "Say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong."