A former Saudi spy chief living in exile in Toronto is asking a Canadian court to throw out an embezzlement lawsuit against him, arguing not only are the allegations unfounded but that the evidence on which they rely was gleaned from human-rights abuses and, likely, torture.
Saad Aljabri, who held a cabinet-rank intelligence post under deposed crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef (known as MBN), has been living in Canada since a 2017 palace coup in Riyadh left Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in charge in Saudi Arabia.
In 2020, Mr. Aljabri sued Crown Prince bin Salman in a federal court in Washington. Mr. Aljabri accused the Crown Prince of sending a hit squad to Canada in 2018 in an attempt to assassinate him, and of holding two of his children hostage in Saudi Arabia.
In August last year, Saudi Arabia fired back. In a civil suit filed against the ex-spy chief in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, subsidiaries of Tahakom Investments Co., a company owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, allege that Mr. Aljabri engaged in a massive fraud, totalling at least US$3.47-billion.
On Jan. 22, the Ontario court ordered Mr. Aljabri’s assets around the world frozen.
The Saudi lawsuit accuses Mr. Aljabri of funnelling money to his family and friends from 10 Saudi companies. The funds, the Saudis allege, were “intended, ostensibly” to fund counterterrorism activities, such as paying informants and buying security equipment.
The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Aljabri hid stolen money in various locations, including the British Virgin Islands, Malta, the United States and Canada.
In a July 5 court filing, Mr. Aljabri’s lawyers ask the Ontario Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing it’s an abuse of the Canadian legal system to allow evidence that is the product of torture to taint the judicial process. They have characterized the civil suit as a “politically motivated attack” and part of the Crown Prince’s efforts to bring down Mr. Aljabri.
The filing includes an affidavit from Mr. Aljabri’s daughter Hissah Saad Almuzaini, who recounts how her husband, Salem Almuzaini, was detained in 2017 and 2018 and tortured by Saudi state security. Her affidavit says interrogators kept asking her husband about financial allegations against Mr. Aljabri and about Sakab Saudi Holding Company, Alpha Star Aviation Services Company and Sky Prime Investment Company, three of the firms allegedly used to commit fraud.
Mr. Almuzaini was “coerced to sign false statements, including statements that relate directly to the allegations in the claim,” the July 5 motion says. He is still detained today by Saudi Arabia.
“This action is tainted by an abuse of process on the part of the plaintiffs and by the chairman of the body that controls them, bin Salman,” the motion says. “The plaintiffs have obtained information from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Public Prosecution office … that was obtained through grave human rights abuses, very likely including torture.” The motion alleges the torture was committed at the behest of Crown Prince bin Salman.
Ms. Almuzaini’s affidavit describes her husband’s torture as severe. Saudi security “whipped him, hit him with iron bars, put him in stress positions, deprived him of food, electrocuted him, and humiliated him by making him crawl on the floor and bark like a dog,” the affidavit says. “The physical beatings and torture were inflicted in conjunction with interrogation sessions where he was asked to admit to embezzling funds using Sky Prime and to disclose information about [Mr. Aljabri].”
In a related affidavit, Mr. Aljabri offers his defence against the fraud allegations, saying he was paid handsomely for his work for the kingdom before he left. He estimates his pay amounted to a total of US$385-million between 2008 and 2017.
“I understand that this number is far in excess of what a senior Canadian civil servant might be paid,” the affidavit says. “However, these payments must be viewed in the context of the practice of customary Royal patronage in the Saudi government, where the absolute monarch is also the head of state and public officials are generously rewarded for their service and loyalty, in amounts that significantly exceed the official public salaries.”
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