Tuesday, June 14, 2005

King Fahd and ex-wife: possible London open court case

Ex-wife's revenge on Saudi King

By Helen Nugent

The Times 14 June 2005

FEW have penetrated the closed world of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family, with its enormous wealth, the lavish lifestyles of its princes and their private passions. Those who do know the truth about King Fahd and his family — the wives, mistresses and advisers — are usually well rewarded to hold their tongues.
But a ruling by a senior High Court judge has opened the door to the House of Saud and will allow a rare glimpse inside. Later this year at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the bitter dispute between King Fahd, 82, and one of his wives, will be aired in public.
It will be an unprecedented hearing, keenly awaited by observers of the kingdom and its absolute rulers. The woman who threatens to expose the ruling family’s inner workings is Janan George Harb, 57.
Mrs Harb, who under Islamic tradition kept her own name after her marriage, is suing the King for increased maintenance from his £32 billion fortune. She says she needs the money to maintain a suitable lifestyle at her Knightsbridge home. She has lived in London for much of the past 30 years and is now a British citizen.
Mrs Harb has pursued her claim despite attempts by the king’s lawyers to keep the case out of the public eye. Previous High Court hearings were cloaked in secrecy and were listed simply as Maple v Maple.
Mrs Harb’s claim is believed to be the first of its kind for a family which regards those who challenge its secrecy as traitors and outcasts. “I don’t know of a single case where anyone has sued the Royal Family for maintenance, I don’t think it has ever happened,” said Said Aburish, an expert on the Fahd family.
In March 2001 the King’s lawyers agreed to pay Mrs Harb “a very substantial sum” on condition that she entered into a binding agreement to reveal nothing of their relationship. Precise details of the maintenance settlement and Mrs Harb’s demands for more money remain unclear but wives of the Saudi royals are known to lead opulent lifestyles.
King Fahd is said to have seven palaces in Saudi Arabia, a chateau on the French Riviera, a private Boeing 747 and two liner-sized yachts.
Under Islamic law, men may take four wives. King Fahd’s father is understood to have had 145 wives during his lifetime and dozens of children. His son has been married fewer times but the frequency of Saudi royal marriages makes it difficult to estimate his total number of wives and ex-wives.
Mr Aburish said: “There are probably only three or four people in the world who know how many times King Fahd has been married.” According to a leading Arabic academic, who did not wish to be named, the wives usually each take a private residence in Saudi Arabia and are habitual travellers.
The family has mansions all over the world and a wife visiting different homes travels with her own entourage, including security guards. Mrs Harb is understood to have been shunned by the household over her Palestinian origins and Christian beliefs.
At previous hearings the King had successfully argued that as a head of state he had sovereign immunity. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, then President of the Family Division, upheld his argument in December last year. But Lord Justice Thorpe has ruled that Mrs Harb’s claim must be held in open court.
The judge said: “I see no legitimate ground for imposing reporting restrictions that would thinly disguise the identity of the sovereign. The identity of the sovereign seems to me to be relevant to any public debate of the issues raised by the plea of immunity.”
KING FAHD FACTS
· King Fahd is the son of Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud, who established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932
· His mother was Hussah Bint Al Sudairi, the most favoured among Abdel Aziz’s many wives, of the powerful Sudairi clan
· King Fahd and his six brothers form the “Sudairi Seven”
· The Sudairi Seven presently control all the vital sectors in Saudi Arabia, from oil to defence and internal security. They function as a close-knit group and try to meet at least once a week
· King Fahd was proclaimed king in June 1982 upon the death of King Khalid
· King Fahd controls the largest oil reserves in the world
· He has seven palaces in Saudi Arabia, a chateau on the French Riviera, a private Boeing 747 and two liner-sized yachts
· After suffering a stroke in November 1995, King Fahd has been hidden behind a shroud of official secrecy

Estranged wife sues King Fahd in London for share of $22bn fortune

By Jonathan Brown

Independent 14 June 2005

The ailing King Fahd, one of the world's richest and most powerful men, is facing an embarrassing public showdown in a British court later this year with a woman who claims to be his estranged wife.
The 83-year-old ruler of Saudi Arabia is being sued by Janan Harb for a share of his $22bn (£12.2bn) fortune over his alleged failure to provide adequately for her. Mrs Harb, 57, who was born in Jordan and lives in Kensington, west London, was described by friends as "incredibly strong-willed and determined".
Her action, if successful, could prove to be the most lucrative maintenance settlement awarded by a British court. Mrs Harb is claiming the King "wilfully neglected" to maintain her under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. She says she is one of the King's three wives. A friend said she still loved the King and blamed his advisers for her predicament. "What she is doing is without precedence in the Middle East, for the wife of a ruler to sue him for maintenance, but she wants to see justice done," the friend said.
King Fahd is recovering in hospital in Saudi Arabia after being admitted with pneumonia, fever and respiratory complications in May. The Saudi interior ministry said yesterday that his health was steadily improving. It was the first official report on his condition for more than a week.
The day-to-day running of the world's largest oil exporter passed to 81-year-old Crown Prince Abdullah in 1995 after King Fahd suffered a stroke. The Prince is now embroiled in a battle with Islamic militants who oppose the monarchy.
Lawyers acting for Mrs Harb successfully challenged a decision made by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss in December last year that the hearing on whether King Fahd should enjoy sovereign immunity from the maintenance proceedings should be held in private. Lawyers for the King argued that heads of state should be protected from civil actions in overseas courts.
At the hearing, Dame Elizabeth, then president of the High Court's Family Division, also imposed strict reporting restrictions on the case which prevented the King's name being made public. She told the court that the King was entitled to secrecy. "Once the press are aware of this they will dig a great deal deeper and there will be a great deal of information which they will be able to put into the public domain," she said.
Last month however, three Court of Appeal judges overturned her decisions and the case challenging King Fahd's immunity from prosecution will now be heard in open court in November. Lawyers for the King sought to argue that the immunity appeal should be held in private to protect his "dignity" under the Geneva Convention. But The judges said it was unprecedented in the past decade for such a case to be heard in secret and concluded that Dame Elizabeth had "misdirected herself" in agreeing to it.
If the court finds for Mrs Harb, the maintenance proceedings will return to the Family Division next year when they will be heard in private.
King Fahd ascended to the Saudi throne in June 1982, when the kingdom was enjoying the peak of the petrodollar boom. He became custodian of Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and assumed control of a vast personal fortune. As well as a palace in Saudi Arabia, he owns a 100-room property in Marbella, southern Spain, called the Mar Mar Palace, modelled on the White House.
The King's arrival in Marbella is always keenly awaited by local traders. During a visit in 2002 he was said to have been accompanied by a "caravan" of 3,000 people. As well as hiring a fleet of 500 Mercedes to convey his guests around town, he also set up unlimited charge accounts at the resort's leading shops. Thousands of pounds worth of flowers and provisions were brought to the palace each day. Such is the extravagance that his mere presence is said to generate £1m a day for the local economy.
The King's yacht, Al-Diriyah, is one of the largest and most opulent in the world. He also has a Boeing 747 at his disposal, complete with an intensive care unit.
No one from King Fahd's legal team, the London solicitors Howard Kennedy, was available for comment.

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