x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Defiant and wary, Saudi's Prince Al Waleed in London court

The Saudi billionaire is under pressure from a UK high court judge to settle a case or face the possibility of being labelled a liar. His responses give a rare glimpse into the lives of Saudi royalty

Prince Al Waleed bin Talal is fighting a claim for $10 million from Daad Sharab, right, a Jordanian businesswoman. Luke MacGregor / Reuters
Prince Al Waleed bin Talal is fighting a claim for $10 million from Daad Sharab, right, a Jordanian businesswoman. Luke MacGregor / Reuters
The Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal was urged by a judge to reach a settlement in a high-profile British legal case involving a decade-long dispute over a private jet.
Prince Al Waleed, the nephew of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is fighting a claim for US$10 million by a Jordanian businesswoman, Daad Sharab, who said the sum is owed to her for her role in selling one of the prince's planes to the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
After two days of cross-examination in the witness box, the judge Peter Smith asked the prince: "Do you really want to go through a trial where an English court declares you a liar? I might have to decide one or the other of you is lying, or even both of you are lying."
Prince Al Waleed revealed that there had been contacts to resolve the decade-old dispute the day before he was due to give evidence, but no deal had been reached.
"I'm willing to meet her again today if necessary," he told the judge.
The Airbus A340 was eventually sold to Qadaffi for $120m in 2006 after years of delay and dispute, during which Prince Al Waleed accused Ms Sharab of "stabbing me in the back" by changing sides to advise the Libyans.
"In the Arab world, stabbing in the back is very important. That's why I decided to give her nothing," he said. He repeated time after time that any payment for her role in the deal was at his "discretion" and no sum had been agreed by contract between them.
But the prince came under attack by Ms Sharab's lawyer, Clive Freedman, who asked: "Is your discretion a thing to be used reasonably, or like an absolute ruler?"
The prince replied: "I am not a ruler, I am a businessman."
The case is a rare example of a member of the Saudi royal family being questioned about intimate personal matters in public.
Ms Sharab alleged that the dispute began when the prince asked her to marry him, which she refused. Prince Al Waleed said in court: "This [the allegation of a marriage proposal] is at best a joke, at worst a lie as I'm married to a very beautiful lady in Saudi Arabia and have been since 2003." His fourth wife, Ameera, was in court to hear the testimony.
The prince, in a grey check suit and dark tie with trademark tinted glasses, looked nervous and wary of the prosecution's questioning.
At one stage he told the judge, "I am honoured to be in your court". The judge replied: "Carry on with the flattery, it will get you everywhere, but I don't believe you're happy to be in court, nobody is."
Questioned about some documents Prince Al Waleed had signed, the judge said: "Surely you don't just sign something without looking at it just because your lawyers tell you - that sounds like something my children would say."
The judge eventually released the prince from the witness box but again urged: "I believe it's in the interest of both parties to attempt a negotiated settlement . If they can't, then it's my duty to come to a decision for them."
The case continues. A ruling is not expected for several weeks.
 
fkane@thenational.ae