King of Jordan visits tax office disguised as bearded old man

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The Independent Online

The King of Jordan disguised himself in old clothes and secretly slipped out of his hilltop palace in the capital Amman to discover how his subjects were being treated by the country's tax department, it was reported yesterday.

King Abdullah II, 39, has become well-known for such undercover expeditions since he ascended the throne after the death of his father, King Hussein, in February 1999. On previous occasions, the king has posed as a television reporter, a taxi driver and an old man to mix with his subjects.

Little news has been made public about Abdullah's fondness for disguise in the past year, but palace officials say the trips have not stopped.

They say the monarch is trying to keep a low profile as he assesses the efficiency and levels of bureaucracy at government offices in Jordan. This time, King Abdullah, 39, is said to have sported a white beard, worn a shabby white Arab robe and a traditional head-dress.

He was also said to have been accompanied by his half-brother, Prince Ali, 25, who commands an élite force in charge of the King's security.

At Amman's income tax department, Prince Ali submitted a form claiming a tax return, officials there said. It was not clear what name he used.

Al Arab Al Yawm, a liberal Jordanian daily newspaper, reported that the King had asked employees at the department to review Prince Ali's application, which was done, and that he had mingled with people in the line behind him. Income tax officials realised that they had had royal visitors only when the two men left the building and drove away in a motorcade complete with royal palace security Jeeps and wailing sirens.

The King and the prince had been careful to arrive more quietly. Officials at the palace in Amman declined to comment on the report.

The king-in-disguise ploy recalls the populist touch of the late King Hussein, who often surreptitiously mixed with his subjects. But his disguises were usually no more elaborate than the end of a head-dress draped across his face.

King Abdullah's forays have combined secrecy with a deft touch for publicity. Often, palace officials do not know about such trips until the King himself talks about them. (AP)

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