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'Nobody can see him': Lawyers of detained Saudi prince sound alarm

Mohammed bin Nayef's family and personal doctor have been barred from visiting the royal since a mass purge in March
Before his ousting, Mohammed bin Nayef controlled the country's security forces and developed close ties to western intelligence agencies (AFP/File photo/HO/SPA)

Lawyers representing Saudi Arabia's former crown prince are increasingly concerned about his well being, alleging that his whereabouts remain unknown and that the government has blocked Prince Mohammed bin Nayef's personal doctor and family from visiting him. 

Bin Nayef's lawyers, who spoke to the Financial Times on the condition of anonymity, said their client's location has been unknown since security forces arrested the prince, his brother, Prince Nawaf, and his uncle Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz during a mass purge of senior Saudi royals in March. 

"They don't know where he's being held, all the phone conversations [with the prince] are very superficial, this is quite a dire situation," the lawyers told FT. "Nobody can see him. They [the princes] haven't been officially charged." 

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Accused of plotting a coup, the princes were arrested because of their potential to rival Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, who's rapid rise to power shook up the traditional succession process. 

Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted by MBS, his younger cousin, in a palace coup in June 2017. At the time, it was believed that bin Nayef, who has suffered health problems, was being held under house arrest after he was stripped of all his governing powers. 

Prior to his ousting in 2017, bin Nayef, 60, was seen as the most significant rival for the throne. He controlled the country's security forces, developed close ties to western intelligence agencies, and remains popular among conservatives sidelined by the crown prince. 

Initially, Prince bin Nayef’s family was in regular phone contact with the former crown prince, but that communication has become more limited, his lawyers told FT, adding that they believe calls are being monitored by the Saudi government.

Prince Nawaf and Prince Abdulaziz were on a retreat in the desert together when they were detained in March. Prince Nawaf was released this month, according to the lawyers who spoke to FT, but there has been no information regarding the whereabouts of the other two royals. 

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The lawyers are particularly concerned about bin Nayef's welfare after one his former aides, Saad al-Jabri, filed a lawsuit in the US earlier this month, accusing MBS of sending the kingdom's "Tiger Squad" to assassinate him in Canada two years ago.

In a direct and rare rebuke of Saudi Arabia, the US State Department praised Jabri earlier this month following the lawsuit's filing. 

At the time, the State Department called him "a valued partner to the United States on countering terrorism", adding that the prince's intelligence cooperation with the US "helped save American and Saudi lives". 

In his suit, Jabri also accused MBS of detaining two of his children - Sarah, 20, and Omar, 22 - in March. The two are being held incommunicado, with the Saudi government seemingly seeking to pressure Jabri to return to the kingdom. 

Last month, Interpol rejected a request by Saudi Arabia to extradite the former intelligence official from Canada. 

Jabri's family has also spoken out about their concerns for the prince and his children. 

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Shortly after the Jabri family went public about their concerns over their children, Prince bin Nayef formally requested that his own bank statements be sent to him - a request his lawyers fear was made under duress. 

"[Prince Mohammed bin Nayef's] current circumstances - and the fact that no independent source has been able to verify his wellbeing - suggest that any instructions purporting to be coming from him should not be actioned upon, as they do not appear to have been made legitimately by [him] of his own accord," the lawyers said, as quoted by FT. 

The legal representatives also noted that they fear Prince bin Nayef's wife and two daughters - who are banned from leaving Saudi Arabia - could be targeted as a way to put pressure on the former crown prince. 

Saudi authorities have not commented publicly on either the Jabri or the Prince bin Nayef cases. 

A person close to the royal court said Saudi authorities believe Jabri led a team at the ministry of interior that allegedly misspent $11bn, an estimated $4bn-$6bn of which was allegedly misappropriated and smuggled out of the country, FT reported. 

The person said there were no similar corruption allegations against Prince bin Nayef.

Jabri's family has dismissed the corruption allegations against him, saying the allegations were politically motivated. 

Meanwhile, Jabri has accused King Salman and his son of dipping their hands into the interior ministry’s counterterrorism fund, to the tune of tens of millions of Saudi riyals a month. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.