Saudi prince loses secret court bid


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The Independent Online

A Saudi prince has failed to persuade a High Court judge to hear allegations that he was "guilty of wrongdoing" behind closed doors.

Mr Justice Morgan today said the allegations - made about Prince Abdulaziz bin Mishal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during litigation in the wake of a business dispute - should be aired at open court hearings.

The judge ruled that it was "not necessary in the interests of justice to conduct relevant hearings in private" after two newspapers - the Guardian and the Financial Times - raised concerns about Prince Abdulaziz's privacy bid.

He said Prince Abdulaziz was a director of one of the companies involved in litigation under way in the Companies Court - which is part of the High Court - in London.

Mr Justice Morgan said allegations had been made that Prince Abdulaziz was "guilty of wrongdoing" in relation to two transactions - described as "the Beirut transaction" and "the Nairobi transaction".

Prince Abdulaziz - his father Prince Mishal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and one of his advisers - had argued that the allegations "should not be given a public airing".

A lawyer representing Prince Abdulaziz had "put forward various matters to show that the allegations were false", said the judge.

The lawyer had "stressed" that Prince Abdulaziz and his father were part of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia and "stressed" the "importance to them of their reputation".

He had argued that hearings where allegations would be aired should be in private to protect reputations.

The lawyer had raised concerns that the two princes might not be able to "vindicate their reputation".

And he had argued that the allegations would "affect the reputation" of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia and submitted that publicity would harm international relations.

"He submitted that the two princes would be associated with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the allegations would lead to an adverse effect on relations between the USA and Saudi Arabia," said Mr Justice Morgan.

"Further Saudi Arabia would regard the UK with suspicion in so far as the courts of the UK had permitted these allegations to be made public in court proceedings."

The lawyer also said Prince Mishal was 86, "frail and in poor health" and argued that the allegations were likely to "cause distress" to Prince Mishal and could "cause him serious health issues".

And he had argued that publicity about the allegation in relation to the "Beirut transaction" would result in a "serious threat" to the "personal safety" of Prince Abdulaziz and his adviser.

Mr Justice Morgan added: "They were said to be at risk of personal injury or death from reprisals from citizens of Saudi Arabia or certain organisations."

Guy Vassall-Adams, for the Guardian and the Financial Times, had said the "open justice principle" might mean that "embarrassing and damaging" allegations were widely published when they had yet to be tested.

But he had argued that the "strength of the public interest in open justice" prevailed over protection of parties and witnesses from embarrassment, said the judge.

"Every day serious allegations are made in both criminal and civil cases, of murder, drug dealing and corruption in criminal cases and of fraud and dishonesty or clinical negligence in civil cases," Mr Vassall-Adams had argued.

"Such allegations have enormous potential for grave reputational harm. Most of the people involved do not have the wealth or power of the applicants with diplomats and public relations consultants available to them."

And Mr Vassall-Adams had argued that "suggestions of harm" as a result of a public hearing had not been supported by "clear and cogent evidence".

Mr Justice Morgan ruled against the applications made by Prince Abdulaziz - his father and adviser.

He said they had not provided "clear and cogent" evidence in relation to submissions about the risk to international relations, the risk of distress to Prince Mishal or the suggestion of vulnerability to "physical attack".

"I consider that it is not necessary in the interests of justice to conduct the relevant hearings in private," concluded the judge.

"I consider that the court hearings in this litigation should take place in open court, unless there emerges some new material which would justify a different approach."