Bankrupt 'widow' of Saudi king seeks £12m from prince

London socialite alleges a secret royal marriage, hush money and dodgy defence contracts

Michael Gillard
Sunday 27 September 2009 00:00

A Saudi prince is being sued in London for allegedly breaching a contract to pay £12m to the "secret wife" of his father for retracting damaging allegations about the late King Fahd.

Lawyers acting for British creditors of Janan Harb are bringing the High Court action after the socialite went bankrupt last year owing £3m.

Allegations about King Fahd in Mrs Harb's sworn witness statement, written to support a maintenance claim against the king, have been kept secret for six years. However, the creditors' action is set to expose the statement and other allegations, among them that King Fahd received millions of pounds in "commissions" for granting government contracts.

Inquiries by The Independent on Sunday have also established that the king previously paid his "wife" £8m in hush money through a complex series of property deals, some in London using Caribbean offshore companies to hide his involvement. The arrangement also involved her handing over an unpublished manuscript.

The case is the latest legal salvo in a bitter dispute over the late king's multibillion-pound estate. But it is the first time that Prince Abdul Aziz, a government minister and possible future leader of the oil-rich autocracy, has been publicly drawn into the fray.

Mrs Harb, 62, a British citizen originally from Palestine, has been an embarrassment to the royal house since she launched a £400m maintenance claim against King Fahd in 2004. They married, she says, in March 1968 under sharia in a secret ceremony at the al-Sharafiya palace. In 1970 she claims she was "forced" by senior royals to leave Saudi Arabia, but continued the relationship from London after King Fahd's coronation in 1982. He died in 2005 aged 82, and the High Court ruled that her maintenance claim could not continue.

But the new legal claim keeps the issues alive.

During the "exile" years Mrs Harb counted on the financial support of British and Middle Eastern businesspeople who are owed the bulk of the £3m. Lloyds Bank is owed £300,000. She declines to identify her creditors. However, a legal source revealed that some are using false names or acting through solicitors for fear of crossing the House of Saud.

Griffins, the trustee in bankruptcy, and the lawyers Mishcon de Reya have a duty to maximise Mrs Harb's assets for her publicity-shy creditors. On 15 June they issued proceedings against the prince, alleging that he breached an agreement reached at the Dorchester Hotel exactly six years earlier to pay Mrs Harb £12m and sign over two flats in London. In return, she was to apologise and retract the allegations in her witness statement prepared in May 2003. Mrs Harb is reluctant to discuss the statement's contents other than to say it detailed the reasons why she was banished. She calls it "the club in my pocket".

The history of the flats in Chelsea's exclusive Cheyne Walk is equally murky. She claims King Fahd had given her one of the flats in 1975 and the other was bought in 1988 out of a £1m payment from the king. But Mrs Harb says that in 1995 she sold the flats back to King Fahd for £2m.

The king hid his involvement in the deal through two Caribbean offshore holding companies, Beechwood House and Elmsdale. Land Registry records link the British Virgin Islands-registered firms to the offices of the king's lawyers, Howard Kennedy. However, Martin Davies, a senior partner, is unwilling to discuss his firm's representation of King Fahd.

If the case goes the distance, a trial will also hear allegations of commissions paid for government contracts. According to Mrs Harb, when they first met, King Fahd was interior minister but lacked a personal fortune. She encouraged him to earn "commissions" from awarding contracts to her boss, a Saudi businessman who acted as an agent for international companies.

She claims King Fahd made millions from a defence contract and promised her a £6m share to be held in trust. This is where the £12m figure comes from when interest is added.

"What's £12m? It's their laundry bill every week. It's not like it's their money. I worked for that money," Mrs Harb said.

Prince Abdul Aziz has not yet responded to the new claim as Griffins is waiting for High Court permission to serve it in Saudi Arabia. He could settle for £3m, leaving no surplus for Mrs Harb. She says she would like the Queen to mediate. "I'm for ever indebted to Britain for its support in my struggle... We are all aware of the close relationship of the two royal houses."

Mrs Harb, a scientologist, has warned the Saudi royals that if there is no settlement to her liking she will write a book. This would breach a confidentiality agreement she signed in 2001 when King Fahd paid £5m for her unpublished manuscript and a property in Beirut. "I'm going to keep stirring it until they give me the money – at least £50m," she promised.

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