Revealed: Saudi royals' secret US property empire

A secret $1bn US property empire amassed by members of the Saudi royal family is the subject of a bitter legal dispute that threatens to reveal the extent of the family's American business interests.

The oil giant BP and the British defence contractor BAE Systems are among the tenants of companies associated with Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, the playboy son of the late King Fahd, according to court documents.

Lawyers for the companies are asking a judge to keep their ultimate ownership secret but correspondence between the two sides remains on the record in a New York courthouse.

The documents reveal that over the past 15 years, Prince Abdul Aziz and a relative, Sheikh Khalid N Al Assaf, amassed a property portfolio that spans the US, from BAE offices near the capital Washington, to the headquarters of the television company Starz in California. They also purchased two of the four buildings in the office complex that BP uses as its US headquarters in Houston, Texas.

In an affidavit provided to the court by David Hill, a Texan real estate executive who says he helped manage the portfolio, it is claimed that the royal family held ownership of the properties through a complex network of foreign and US companies. The prince met with his US property managers repeatedly, in Los Angeles, the Bahamas, Mexico and the Saudi capital Riyadh, according to the affidavit.

Prince Abdul Aziz is the youngest son of King Fahd, with a personal fortune estimated in the billions of dollars. He has few governmental responsibilities of his own, and his international playboy lifestyle was on show in another New York court earlier this year when one of his entourage was convicted of raping a woman at the swanky Plaza hotel, where the prince had rented more than 50 rooms.

The claims about the Saudi royal family's extensive US property holdings have come to light in a case in New York Supreme Court involving Mr Hill and a business partner, Howard Hallengren.