The sheikh, the salesgirl and the £140m divorce

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The Independent US

Seeking a happy ending to what began as a fairy-tale romance, a former London salesgirl has put her £140m divorce settlement from an Arab sheikh up for sale to anyone who can collect it.

Seeking a happy ending to what began as a fairy-tale romance, a former London salesgirl has put her £140m divorce settlement from an Arab sheikh up for sale to anyone who can collect it.

The incredible story, which involves the Saudi royal family, a desert kingdom and a vast fortune, began when Italian-born Diana Bilinelli was 16 and working in a shop in Piccadilly Circus. Sheikh Mohammed al-Fassi pulled up in his black Rolls-Royce and asked to meet her. They were married a year later in Saudi Arabia and moved into a mansion in Beverly Hills.

Ms Bilinelli said: "The money flooded in. We spent our lives on aircraft, in casinos, luxury hotels and palaces, in jewellers and fashion houses."

They attracted notoriety when Sheikh Fassi bought a mansion on Sunset Boulevard and painted it green. He became known in the media as the Sheikh of Sunset Strip.

The marriage ended when the sheikh invoked Saudi law to take two more wives.

A California Supreme Court judge awarded Ms Bilinelli half her husband's assets, which included homes in Miami Beach, London and Spain; two Boeing 707 jets; 36 cars; an £8m yacht; 26 horses; and a private zoo, estimated at a total of £140m.

But she has been unable to collect the money because the sheikh, who died in 2002 of an infected hernia, claimed he had transferred all his assetsto members of the Saudi royal family, principallyKing Fahd's brother, Prince Turki.

So now Miss Bilinelli, who lives in Vicenza, Italy, has put the settlement up for sale to anyone who may able to collect it.

"It's a dandy investment opportunity," said her Los Angeles lawyer, Helen Dorroh-White. "The only hitch is that any buyer has to collect from a member of the Saudi royal family."

Prince Turki, who lives in Cairo, has not responded to a court order declaring that he is obligated to pay off the debt, which has been accruing interest at £33,000 a day.

Miss Dorroh-White has sent letters outlining the case to prospective buyers that she believes may be able to track down Prince Turki's assets. They include Lloyd's of London and Israel's secret intelligence service, Mossad.

If nobody buys the debt, Bilinelli and her lawyers are considering offering 1 per cent of the take to anyone who can direct them to any of Prince Turki's assets.

"I'm fighting for my legal rights. The Saudi royal family behaves as though they own the planet," said Ms Bilinelli in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "But I will find justice."

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