Sources close to Saad Hariri, who stepped down as Lebanese Prime Minister 12 days ago, reported on Thursday, Nov. 16 that he would fly from Riyadh to Paris within 48 hours, after which he would head to Beirut to formally submit his resignation. Since announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital, the Lebanese politician has not left the kingdom, while denying he is held there against his will.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that Hariri and his family had been invited to France for a few days, but not for political exile.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources offer the first blow-by-blow account of the steps which led up and followed the Hariri mystery bombshell.
- On Nov, 4, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had 500 high-ranking princes, officials and ultra-rich businessmen detained on “corruption charges.”
- On the same day, Saad Hariri boarded his private plane and flew to Riyadh, announcing he was stepping down as prime minister after discovering a plot on his life.
That claim was a cover-up. The real threat to him came from the Saudi Crown Prince, who demanded that Hariri present himself at once in Riyadh, else the Hariri family’s substantial property and bank accounts would be impounded, like those of the detained princes and billionaires.
- The family has had a long and profitable alliance with the oil kingdom. Rafiq Hariri, Saad’s late father and predecessor as prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated in 2005, founded the Saudi Branch of the French giant construction firm Oger in 1969. A year later, he set up a Saudi construction company called Saudi Oger Ltd. which grew into the one of the biggest and most successful construction company in the kingdom. The firm made sure to maintain business connections with important members of the royal family. The most prominent was Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, scion of a former king.
- Mismanagement, corruption and falling oil prices brought Saudi Oger down. It closed down on July 31, 2017, but was survived by a subsidiary, Oger Telecommunications, which provides fixed line and mobile communication and internet services in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and South Africa.
In 2008, Saudi Telecom Company acquired Oger Telecom for $2.56 billion with a 35 percent stake in the company.
- An article in the last DEBKA Weekly was headed: Will Saudi Crown Prince’s Palace Revolution Gain him Money and Power? The answer coming back was that one of the prince’s objects in his crackdown was to raise the sum of $100 billion from the detainees, who are estimated by Saudi and international financial quarters to have embezzled that amount from the Saudi state exchequer.
- Our sources now reveal that the Hariri family friend, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, had accumulated property worth some $7 billion from the Hariri family’s Saudi concerns, which the Crown Prince was determined to recover.
Since those concerns bankrolled the former Lebanese prime minister’s prominent political standing in Beirut, Hariri could not afford to ignore the Crown Prince’s ultimatum without placing the family’s entire business empire at risk.
- Notwithstanding the denials that Hariri is not being held against his will, the truth is that he is being held in some sort of house arrest. But only his high position as a Lebanese leader – albeit also a holder of Saudi nationality – and the reluctance to gratify Tehran and Hizballah – saved him from being locked up with the 500 Saudi high-ups at the Carlton Ritz.
- The French president felt it was his place to ntervene in the affair in view of French financial involvement in the Hariri firms.
9. Negotiations between French Foreign Minister Jean Yves le-Drian and Prince Muhammad in the last 48 hours led to the decision to allow the former Lebanese prime minister to leave for Paris and spend time there with his family. Negotiations would meanwhile go forward for the Hariri companies to surrender part of their capital assets to the Saudi government. The French secret service will not only protect the family, but also restrict the politician’s movements in coordination with Riyadh.