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Saudi sports tsar blows $4.8m on Bugatti sports car

Turki al-Sheikh, top aide to Mohammed bin Salman, purchased the vehicle after being named minister, MEE can reveal
The sports minister and the Bugatti Chiron (Reuters)

The chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority, Prince Turki al-Sheikh, spent $4.8m on a Bugatti Chiron sports car at a time when the country’s government was supposed to be promoting austerity, Middle East Eye can reveal.

According to documents seen by MEE, in September 2017 Sheikh paid 18,000,000 Saudi riyals ($4.8m) for a Bugatti Chiron sports car, which was located at Bugatti’s headquarters in Molsheim, France.

The payment went to Saeed Mohamed Butti al-Qebaisi, chairman of Centurion Investments, an Abu Dhabi-based firm that invests in healthcare, education, money exchange and retail.

According to Forbes, Qebaisi is the 887th richest man in the world, with a fortune worth $2.8bn.

The receipt is signed and reads: "Thank you for your business!"

The receipt of payment for a Bugatti bought by Saudi Sports Minister Turki al-Sheikh

As head of Saudi sports, Sheikh has a prominent role in Riyadh’s drive to seek greater prominence through sport.

Saudi Arabia announced his appointment on 6 September, 2017, three days before the Bugatti payment was received, documents show.

According to Bugatti’s website, the car, of which only a limited number has been made, “is a piece of engineering art and one of a kind – as unique as its owners”.

Its 16-cylinder, quad-turbocharged engine has a horsepower of 1,500, and at a 2017 car show in Frankfurt, the vehicle broke the 0-400km/h record, completing it in 41.96 seconds in 3.2 km.

The base price for a Chiron is $2.7m, however its limited numbers make the vehicle a collector’s item.

'They only come around on the market every so often, like a Modigiliani or a Picasso, driving up the price'

- Luxury cars expert

“People pay over the odds for cars like these,” a luxury cars expert, who wished to remain anonymous because of links to Saudi Arabia, told MEE.

“They only come around on the market every so often, like a Modigiliani or a Picasso, driving up the price.”

In the face of struggling oil prices and a growing realisation that the kingdom needs to diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia has implemented a number of austerity measures.

Ordinary Saudis have been hit by tax hikes and subsidy cuts, while spending on the royal court and government officials is said to have been slashed.

Controversial figure

In his role less than a year, Sheikh’s time as Saudi sports tsar has already seen controversy.

After Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 defeat to Russia in the opening game of the World Cup, Shiekh was moved to release a video chastising his team’s players.

"We've done everything we could for the national team players," Sheikh bemoaned.

"We've been covering all their expenses for three years, we've hired the best coaching team and a world-class head coach for them, but they did not fulfil what was required of them even by five percent.”

Saudi Arabia Sports Minister Turki Al Sheikh during training (Reuters)

Sheikh is one of two top advisors to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), heir to the Saudi throne, who was pictured at the game on 14 June sitting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Saudi and Russian leaders shared remarks as the Green Falcons conceded five goals.

After the game, the Saudi sports federation was forced to deny rumours that Sheikh had decided to punish forward Mohammad al-Sahlawi, defender Osama Hawsawi and goalkeeper Abdullah al-Mayouf for their performances in Moscow.

Sheikh is seen with the rulers of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. (saudq1978/Twitter)

After this year's Arab League summit, Sheikh was seen in a photograph with political leaders from the region, including MbS, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Sheikh has stirred controversy elsewhere in the football world.

In May, he was moved to stand down as honorary chairman of Egyptian side al-Ahli.

Although a symbolic role, as honorary president, Sheikh is thought to have pledged investment into the league champions.

However, multiple controversies over player signings and new contracts caused friction between him and sections of the club and fanbase, souring the relationship.

His reputation in Egypt was tarnished further in May after joking on Twitter that he wished to see talismanic Egyptian player Mohamed Salah miss the game against Saudi Arabia in the World Cup, due to be played in the coming week.

He also posted a video on Facebook claiming that he had asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to “get rid” of the star forward.

When Salah then suffered an injury in the Champions League final, putting his participation in the World Cup in doubt, Egyptian football fans accused Sheikh of being behind the forward’s misfortune.

More recently, Sheikh has received the ire of fans in Morocco, after voting against the North African country’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

The Saudi government has not responded to a request from MEE to comment on the purchase.