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Saudi royal and minister sought over alleged kidnap of reformist prince

Swiss prosecutors seek interviews with prince and Islamic affairs minister over alleged 2003 kidnap of Sultan bin Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Saud
Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in 2005 (AFP)

Two prominent Saudi figures are being sought for interview by Swiss prosecutors investigating the alleged abduction of a reformist Saudi prince in 2003, say lawyers in the case.

Prince Sultan bin Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Saud claims he was abducted by five masked men and taken unconscious and against his will to Saudi Arabia on 12 June 2003, after being asked to attend a meeting at a palace in Collonge-Bellerive, Switzerland.

Last month the Geneva prosecutor began hearing evidence from witnesses in the case, including from the chief security officer and his assistant who were guarding the prince on the day of the alleged abduction. The evidence has not been released by the Swiss prosecutors, however.

In a letter to the prince, which he passed to Middle East Eye, his Swiss lawyer Pierre de Preux said that a criminal complaint against the two men had been filed with Swiss authorities. They are named as the Saudi Islamic affairs minister, Salih ibn Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad al-Shaykh, and Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

De Preux said that the prosecutors would seek statements from the two men, and that Geneva’s First Prosecutor Stephan Grodecki would organise interviews, during which the notification of the accusations would take place and the men told whether there was evidence to proceed.

No formal charges have been placed against Prince Abdulaziz and Salih al-Shaykh.

Despite repeated requests, officials at the Saudi embassy in Switzerland and officials in Riyadh have not commented on the complaint from Prince Sultan’s lawyers.

The palace at Collonge-Bellerive used to belong to Prince Abdulaziz’s late father King Fahd, who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1982-2005. Prince Abdulaziz is currently in the UK, while Salih Al-Shaykh is believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

Lawyers in the case say the two men could be interviewed either in Geneva or in Saudi Arabia, but this depends on positive international cooperation between Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

De Preux’s letter states that the criminal complaint alleges aggravated kidnapping, serious injury and endangering the lives of others under various articles of the Swiss criminal code.

'Host of questions'

Speaking to Middle East Eye, the complainant’s US lawyer, Clyde Bergstresser of Bergstresser & Pollock PC, said that the case raised a host of questions for Swiss authorities.

“There are a lot of things that the Swiss should feel very concerned about that happened on their soil. Clearly there were number of people who appear to have been involved in the planning of what happened,” he said.

“In Saudi Arabia I would like to think the kingdom… would assist in finding a way for the prosecutor either in Switzerland or in Saudi Arabia to question the respondents.”

The ongoing case is expected to also hear evidence from British-Portuguese brothers, Joao and Eddie Ferreira, who were working for Prince Sultan and were staying with him and his entourage in the penthouse of Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel in the month leading up to the kidnap.

At the time of the alleged kidnapping, Prince Sultan was at odds with the rest of his family over his newly unveiled reform agenda for the kingdom. From early 2002 he had repeatedly shocked the Saudi establishment with a succession of public calls for more political participation, accountability, transparency and judicial reform.

Then in May 2003, instead of submitting to demands to tone down his criticism, Prince Sultan announced he would hold a conference in Geneva to reveal details of corruption at the Ministry of Defence. Eddie Ferreira remembers how from that point on the atmosphere around the prince seemed to darken.

Speaking to MEE, Ferreira, who worked as Prince Sultan’s communications officer at the time of the alleged abduction, said: “Sultan is a reformist prince who was looking just to bring some reforms. He was concerned with the regime and its potential longevity and he was trying to do something positive for the country, but he was pretty much on his own, back against the wall.

“The reaction from members of the family had definitely been negative. There was some support from minor princes and princesses but most of the senior princes were very much of the attitude ‘What the hell are you doing? Stop shaking the tree! This isn’t going to end well for you!’”

“There was definitely tension. There had been a number of potential threats and we were on heightened security.”

The missing prince

“I remember the day vividly. The prince left quite early at around 7am and when he was leaving I sent him a message through one of his manservants saying I hoped he was going to be well and that I would see him again as I just had a feeling I wasn't going to after that day.”

By the time Ferreira’s shift finished at noon, the prince was missing.

“There was no call, no sign, no message, no nothing. Come two o'clock I was pretty much resigned to the fact he was gone.”

Later that same day, Ferreira recalled, Saudi embassy officials came to the prince’s penthouse and took his office files and other documents in bags.

He said he was told by officials that the prince was in Riyadh, to pack his stuff and get out.

“Clearly somebody somewhere thought he was a real danger and that is why they removed him in the manner they did.

“Afterwards I was paid in cash … the same day and that is when I left. As far as I am aware the money I was paid with came from [Saudi] embassy officials.”

But when Eddie’s brother Joao asked about his payment he says he was called into a suite at the hotel by embassy officials, and was told that Prince Sultan “wasn’t behaving himself” and “hasn’t made many friends”.

“I said no, obviously it seems like he hasn’t made many friends has he,” said Joao Ferreira.

Investigators are also expected to focus on how Prince Sultan could be taken from Switzerland against his will without alerting the Swiss authorities.

It has not yet been confirmed that the prince left with the knowledge of Swiss officials. One possibility, considered by investigators, is that he was smuggled out under diplomatic protocol as part of a Saudi delegation visiting Switzerland at that time.

“There were a whole fleet of Saudi airplanes stationed in Geneva airport at that time. One of them had all the medical facilities for intensive care. It belonged to the Saudi Royal Court which is Saudi government and it had been held there for quite a number of days,” said Eddie Ferreira.

“What went down at the airport is another area that is ripe for investigation by the prosecutor,” said Bergstresser, the abducted prince’s US lawyer. 

“There are a lot of questions. What planes were there? Who was flying them? What were their flight paths? When did they arrive? How many from Saudi Arabia? How much in advance of Prince Sultan’s visit were they there preceding his abduction?”

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