Man acquitted of conning wealthy with `sheikh' act

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The Independent Online
A MAN dubbed the "fake sheikh" and accused of conning the singer Cher and a string of other rich and famous people was cleared of theft and four counts of deception yesterday.

The jury at Oxford Crown Court took 11 hours to find Sulaiman al-Kehaimi not guilty. During the three-week trial Mr Kehaimi, 39, was accused of being "a prince amongst confidence tricksters" who had duped Cher and rich business partners into believing he was fabulously wealthy.

Counsel for the prosecution had described Mr Kehaimi's lifestyle as nothing more than "a pretence, a fantasy, a fairy story", and far from being a man of immense wealth he was, in fact, strapped for cash.

He wove a web of deception to perpetrate frauds worth more than pounds 326,000, the court had been told.

But Mr Kehaimi, of Upton Close, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, was found not guilty of stealing pounds 55,000 from Simon Langer, a businessman, and cleared of a further three charges of obtaining pounds 83,700 by deception from his neighbour, Mrs Mehrangiz Charnell.

The jury of five men and seven women believed that the money given to him by his Persian neighbour in three separate sums, while he lived at Badgemore stud farm in Henley, was for legitimate business transactions and to help free her brother from a prison sentence in Dubai.

He was also cleared of trying to obtain pounds 40,000 by deception from Rupert Manwaring, commercial director of the Formula 1 Tyrrell Racing team.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge relating to the "procurement of the execution" of a cheque for pounds 187,500 from a Robert Patmore. He was acquitted on the judge's direction. The alleged offences were said to have been committed between November 1995 and March 1997.

The jury had been told he would spend thousands of pounds a night in London clubs and fly friends around the world in a customised Boeing 707, which had been chartered. He possessed a fleet of expensive cars and houses in London and Paris and had all the trappings of immense wealth.

The court was shown extracts of a video of Mr Kehaimi entertaining Cher and business associates at a pounds 50m chateau in Monte Carlo during the 1996 Grand Prix.

To celebrate her 50th birthday he gave her the keys to a valuable sports car and was heard to say: "These are the keys for a car, a Lamborghini Diablo. I had it for a while, I like it very much but I would like you to have it for your birthday."

Cher, clearly embarrassed, replied: "I can't believe this", and kissed Mr Kehaimi twice on the cheek. The court was told the American singer never did receive the car. It was sold to pay business debts.

Throughout the trial, Mr Kehaimi, son of an ambassador, said money given to him was for legitimate business transactions and he had every intention of paying back his creditors.

He said delays were caused by the Saudi Arabian ministry of defence failing to settle pounds 100m of bills his company, Al Wizar, had amassed for supplying medical equipment to hospitals. Mr Kehaimi denied dishonestly wheedling money from his neighbour "to fritter away on his own expenses".

He said money he had spent on lawyers had eventually led to Mrs Charnell's brother being freed from prison.

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