The federal Justice Department should follow the lead of the U.S. government and intervene in a civil suit brought by Saudi Arabia against a former top Saudi intelligence chief living in exile in Toronto, legal and security experts say.
In late January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit threw out an attempt by Saudi Arabia to freeze US$29-million of assets of Saad Aljabri, who has been targeted by Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A group of Saudi companies owned by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, which the Crown Prince controls, had brought embezzlement and fraud cases against Mr. Aljabri, first in Canada and then in the United States.
The U.S. Appeals Court threw out the case, saying Mr. Aljabri could not get a fair trial after the U.S. Justice Department intervened to say it would not share highly classified intelligence that the former Saudi spy would need to defend himself.
“Given the assertion of state secrets privilege, can litigation of this suit proceed? The answer is no,” the court ruled. “The case is dismissed.”
The court also rejected the Saudis’ request to hold off judgment until the matter had been resolved in Ontario Superior Court. The Ontario court has frozen Mr. Aljabri’s funds.
In the Ontario lawsuit against Mr. Aljabri, 10 Saudi state-run companies alleged he colluded with former crown prince and interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef and received $1.2-billon in misappropriated funds. Mr. bin Nayef is now under house arrest in Saudi Arabia.
Ottawa has filed a request with the Federal Court on behalf of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to prevent Mr. Aljabri from disclosing sensitive security information in the Ontario civil proceeding. The court has not yet rendered a decision.
But the government has ruled out intervening with the Ontario Superior Court, which is still hearing the civil suit.
Justice Department spokesman Ian McLeod said the government is “not a party to the civil proceedings, has no legal standing in the Ontario Court civil proceedings and takes no position on them.”
U.S. lawyer Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), which promotes human rights and democracy, had urged Attorney-General David Lametti to intervene. She said Mr. Aljabri cannot have a fair trial if he is denied the right to use classified intelligence in his defence.
Lawyers for Mr. Aljabri have argued this intelligence will show Saudi state funds were not embezzled but used to set up front companies for counterterrorism operations on behalf of the U.S. and other Western allies.
Ms. Whitson said Crown Prince bin Salman, known as MBS, is using Canadian and U.S. courts to target Ms. Aljabri after he allegedly sent a hit team to assassinate him and then kidnapped two of his children to force his return to Saudi Arabia.
“It is part of a package of attacks that the Saudi government is working against him that runs the gamut to kidnapping his children to using corporate alter egos to bring lawsuits against him to seize his assets,” she said. “It also comes as part of the package of their earlier attempts to kill him which we know thanks to the work of Canadian authorities.”
The Globe has reported that a Saudi mercenary group was sent to assassinate Mr. Aljabri in Toronto in 2018, but Canadian border guards refused to let them into the country when they arrived at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier airport.
Mr. Aljabri – who fled to Canada in 2017 – is widely respected by Canadian and U.S. intelligence officials who credit him with preventing al-Qaeda attacks and saving hundreds of Western lives.
Al Treddenick, CSIS station chief in Saudi Arabia from 2007 to 2011, told The Globe that Mr. Aljabri provided intelligence that prevented pipeline bombings and attacks on workers at Nexen facilities in Yemen, where the former Canadian oil company was operating before it was take over by a Chinese state-owned company in 2013.
Mr. Aljabri also prevented a bomb being placed on a flight from the Middle East to Toronto while he was working in Riyadh, he said, but provided no further details.
Mr. Treddenick said Canada’s reputation would be severely damaged if the Ontario court allowed Mr. Aljabri to reveal intelligence about methods, employees and front companies that have been set up for counterterrorism operations,
If the Federal Court rules he can’t share the information, then the Ontario Superior Court must stay the proceedings, he said.
“I think it is an abuse of the Canadian court system,” Mr. Treddenick said. “If the defendant can’t defend himself, the recourse should be to dismiss any charges or actions.”