Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz arrived in Paris Thursday, June 21, for his first royal visit to the French capital.
In his party was Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, his national security adviser, who has been at the center of a corruption scandal for some weeks.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Riyadh note that his presence in the royal party provides a clue to Bandar’s situation in the latest power struggle in the royal house.
The web of politics at the court in Riyadh is customarily enveloped in several layers of dark secrecy. Even princes at the outer limits of the extended royal family are rarely au fait with the goings-on at the top, whereas leaks to the outside world are unheard of.
Nonetheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Saudi sources report that the scandal surrounding Prince Bandar, for many years ambassador in Washington and accused now of taking multimillion kickbacks from Saudi arms deals with Britain, originates in court intrigue, specifically, the tussle between Bandar and his successor as ambassador in Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal over the job of foreign minister.
The new appointment has become urgent in view of the failing health of the long-serving Saud al-Faisal. For the first time, the tremors have burst the confines of the royal court.
The first inkling of a contest between Bandar and Turki trickled out to the West in December 2006, when Turki abruptly resigned the Washington post after 15 months at the post.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 282, which disclosed his departure on Dec. 15, 2006, reported, contrary to Washington media, that Turki and Bandar were in close competition for the foreign affairs portfolio and that Turki was rushing home to press his claim near the center of power.
The struggle took a step forward on June 11-12, 2007, when the British and US media accused Prince Bandar of receiving kickbacks from the Al Yamama deal Riyadh signed with the largest British arms manufacturers, BAE Systems, in London in 1988. They charged him with accepting a total of $2 billion for “support services” upon the signing of the $54 billion transaction.
Bandar said the payments were legitimate and deposited in the Saudi kingdom’s account in Washington where he as ambassador was an accredited signatory.
The post of foreign minister is the bone of contention
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development-OECD is now threatening an inquiry because if the charges are substantiated, the giant BAE Systems is in breach of anti-bribery rules. The US government may also investigate purported BEA violations of America’s anti-bribery laws. So the British weapons mammoth is in hot water.
But where did the scandal come from?
According to our Gulf sources, Prince Turki, who served as Saudi ambassador to Britain from Jan. 2003, used his good connections with UK media to dump the scandal on his rival. Bandar may very possibly have deposited the money in his own private account with the permission of the then reigning monarch, King Fahd, for whom it would be normal to reward senior princes for their services to the kingdom as negotiators of such arms contracts. In Saudi Arabia this would be legitimate. But Turki may have raked it up to harm Bandar’s reputation in the West, where it would be counted criminally corrupt.
Since the story broke, Bandar has made himself scarce in Riyadh. Before April, he was constantly in and out of the royal court as a key player in Saudi foreign policy-making, especially the Arab orbit and Iran. Now, he spends most of his time at his London home and traveling around Europe.
The princely struggle over the foreign minister’s post pits two of the ruling factions of the House of Saud against one another: Bandar’s Sudairi clan, which his headed by his father, the defense minister Crown Prince Sultan since the death of King Fahd, whereas Turki belongs to the leading anti-Sudairi clan, headed by King Abdullah. It is followed by the sons of the late King Faisal.
Prince Bandar is married to a Faisal daughter. For many years, he and Turki worked together and showed their disdain for the clan rivalries dividing the royal family into quarreling factions. However the heated contest over the foreign portfolio shows that the kinship blood of Saudi princes is thicker than any other consideration.
Until now, the post was the sanctified preserve of the sons of King Faisal, who combined the two positions of king and foreign minister. After he was assassinated in 1975, his son, the incumbent Saud al Faisal, stepped into his shoes as a matter of course.
His brother Turki al-Faisal should according to this rule of thumb come next. The dispute indicates that the controversy runs deep, most certainly involving the Crown Prince and an argument over the future succession, and King Abdullah has not been able to assert his authority sufficiently to make a decision.