A new book by Wall Street Journal reporters Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck exposes the blatant hypocrisy and corruption of Saudi politics and its crown prince, deputy prime minister and minister of defense Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).
Welcome to the Party
Bin Salman’s over the top behavior and ruthless actions are part of a wider pattern of many Gulf elites who act out their hard-partying fantasies in lavish playgrounds around the world and pursue money and power at any cost.
Hope and Scheck’s book Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power details some jaw-dropping incidents of corruption and bin Salman’s partying, such as a 2015 trip to the Maldives with a small group of other friends and colleagues where the entire island of Velaa was rented out for $50 million for a month-long celebration. Bin Salman insisted that no modern smartphones be used and took extra precautions that the time on the island would be private and would not leak to the press.
Bin Salman was 29 at the time and had 150 gorgeous women flown in from around the world and famous musicians Pitbull, Afrojack and the Korean rapper Psy. The women were tested for sexually transmitted diseases before bin Salman and his friends met them and copious alcohol, which is illegal in Saudi Arabia, was served. At one point bin Salman got excited during an Afrojack show and jumped onstage to take over the DJ table from him as his compatriots cheered.
The planned celebration was cut short before one week was up, however, after it leaked to the local press and bin Salman and his entourage packed up and quickly departed.
This is just one episode in the life of MBS, who owns a 439-foot yacht and numerous homes worth in the hundreds of millions including a $300 million chateau near Versailles, France. He worked his way up to becoming extremely wealthy despite growing up as not overly rich by royal standards because of his father King Salman’s indebtedness to various princes and corporate figures.
The first way MBS reportedly made a lot of money was by selling off expensive gold coins and lavish watches given to him as presents, a trick that earned him $100,000. He went on to found a garbage disposal company and real estate company and got the nickname “Father of the Bullet” after sending a bullet to a man who wouldn’t sell him a piece of land he wanted.
MBS is close to Jared Kushner and his country is a close ally of the US. Due to Muslim beliefs, Saudi Arabia has strict penalties for drinking alcohol, taking drugs, premarital sex and many of the other behaviors which members of its family have engaged in abroad.
The Saudi royal family is the richest family on the planet and is worth an estimated $1.4 trillion. That is more than 16 times more than the British royal family. Oil is the main source of revenue for the 15,000-member royal family who inhabit luxurious villas and palaces around the country.
Furniture made out of high-grade gold is very popular among members of the royal family, as is dabbling in other pastimes like art collection. MBS paid $450 million for the painting Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) by Leonardo da Vinci in 2017 and he also has plans to buy a soccer team.
While the royal family is massively rich, many Saudis are not. It is a common misconception that because the government is well off the people must be as well, but in fact 20 percent of Saudis live in poverty and many can’t afford to buy a home. The country has a significant and growing problem with income inequality. As Scheck and Hope outline in their book, this is one of the reasons MBS wanted his time on Velaa kept secret because he is aware of the Saudi people’s disgust at the behavior of the royal family buying expensive cars in the UK or throwing outlandish parties.
Like the nearby United Arab Emirates, which is also suffused with corruption, Saudi Arabia is a den of greed and double-dealing bolstered by huge oil reserves and a very powerful military. Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of weapons in the world and has one of the strongest military forces in the Middle East as well as a powerful foreign lobby which often shields royals who make mistakes abroad and works to abduct dissidents who are living abroad.
Royals who go against the grain aren’t safe either, and in the past Prince Sultan bin Turki, Prince Saud bin Saif and Prince Turki bin Bandar were abducted because of their criticism of the government, as well as the 2018 murder of journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Riyadh helps its own citizens escape justice when they commit crimes in other nations such as the US, which happened in the case of Saudi citizen Abdulrahman Noorah who sped through a school zone and killed a 15-year-old student in 2016. Riyadh posted $100,000 bail for Noorah, who faced a charge of manslaughter. Despite giving up his passport and wearing an ankle monitor, however, Noorah disappeared and a week later was back in Saudi Arabia beyond the reach of American justice, since Riyadh has no extradition treaty with Washington.
According to declassified FBI documents, Riyadh “almost certainly” helps Saudis get out of the US who have done crimes including manslaughter, rape and possession of child pornography. Ali Alhamoud is another Saudi citizen who escaped back to Saudi Arabia after being charged with multiple sexual assault charges in the US. Saudi authorities deny all accusations that they help citizens escape charges abroad.
Another of the many, many cases occurred in 2015, when Saudi Prince Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud fled after a three day party at a mansion he was renting in Beverley Hills, where he was accused of raping multiple women including a bleeding woman who was found trying to escape.
The Bottom Line
The partying and wealth of Saudi royals like bin Salman exposes deep hypocrisy but is also a veneer on an unjust society. Saudi Arabia has a growing problem with poverty and most people don’t have good access to education, healthcare or even fully functioning sanitary systems and housing.
The country is also full of numerous abusive practices, such as domestic maids often brought in from Southeast Asia and stripped of their passports. Some maids report being made to work 18 hours a day and sexually and physically abused. Thousands of maids become so desperate they run away and try to do anything to escape; 5,000 ran away between 2013 to 2014 alone.
Hope and Scheck’s book documents MBS’ rise to power and the culture of greed and ruthlessness which surrounds him and which he embodies. Western countries who want strong economic and military ties with Saudi Arabia may not care much, but helping prop up a corrupt oil monarchy is not something that should be high on the list of any self-respecting nation.