Saudi Arabia`s Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz is claiming political asylum in the UK over fears for her safety back home. She tells Hugh Miles and Robert Mendick why she doesn`t want to return.
She was Saudi Arabia`s “Barbie” princess; the pampered granddaughter of the Kingdom`s founder and daughter of one of his most powerful and favoured sons.
Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz, however, is claiming political asylum in the UK over fears for her safety back home.
The claim, the first ever made by such a senior member of the ruling family`s inner circle, will embarrass the Saudi dynasty and threatens a diplomatic row.
Princess Sara, 38, accuses senior Saudi officials of plotting to kidnap her and smuggle her back to Riyadh, having subjected her to a “well orchestrated and malicious campaign of persecution”.
She currently occupies a suite and several rooms in a five-star London hotel with her four children and two dogs, guarded by a private security team.
“I am very scared right now,” she told The Sunday Telegraph at a secret location. “They know I can`t go back now. There is a threat. That`s a slap in the face of the Kingdom.
“I`ve been physically abused. I`ve been mentally abused. My assets have been frozen. They`ve accused me of being in opposition [to them] with Iran, they haven`t left anything. I`ve been crucified in every way.”
On Friday, Princess Sara`s lawyers notified the Home Office of her intention to seek asylum. Ministers must assess the truth of the allegations and decide whether to offer her a safe haven – a diplomatic dilemma because Saudi authorities want her to return.
Princess Sara has lived in the UK since 2007 after she fell out with her 80-year-old father, Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, known as The Red Prince.
She says of her relationship with him: “Everything goes back to a certain aspect that I don`t discuss in public. Something happened with my father and he didn`t take it lightly. He retaliated against me and wanted to crush me. I had been his closest; I had been his favourite. It shook my world.”
While living first in the Cotswolds, then in London she won custody of her children. She has had a continuing inheritance battle with her older brother, Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, over their dead mother`s £325 million fortune, made up of cash, jewels and property in Saudi Arabia,Switzerland, Egypt and Lebanon.
She claims she was cut off from her inheritance. Saudi officials have asked her to return to Riyadh to argue her case, rather than air her grievances abroad.
Her asylum claim offers an insight into the tensions within the Saudi royal family. With the current king ill, Princess Sara was supported by her uncle, the Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a rival of her father`s. But last month he died, leaving her exposed and seemingly prompting her push for asylum.
She grew up in a Riyadh palace with untold riches at her disposal. Asked if she was ferried everywhere by Rolls-Royce, she replied: “I hate Rolls-Royces, I love Aston Martins,” before adding: “Actually I am very grounded.”
Her grandfather was King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Saudi state. Her father, a radical and a reformer, was exiled briefly in the 1960s but returned to the fold, and her mother, who died of cancer in 2008, was Prince Talal`s third wife. Among her 14 brothers and sisters is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who runs the country`s sovereign wealth fund and is one of the richest men in the world.
“They called me the little Barbie as I was like this cute little girl who had everything,” recalled Princess Sara of her childhood. “But my British nanny brought me up in a very strict manner.
“My branch of the family was always different from the rest of Al Saud – open, controversial and diverse. We celebrate Christmas.”
She studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh, and married a royal cousin while still young. She was divorced in her twenties.
She worked with her father as he travelled in his role as an ambassador to Unicef, visiting refugee camps where she was instilled, she says, with a need to address injustice. “I just had a feeling my roles as a princess and a society lady and a reformer contradicted each other,” she said. “As a princess you have more obligations you have to take seriously.
“It is not privilege. It is work, work, work. I would say I associate myself with Princess Anne [except] maybe different looks.”
Wearing a V-neck sweater, leggings and running shoes, Princess Sara dresses like any Westerner and refuses to wear a veil. Her nails are bright red and her hair is in a plait because she has not had time to wash it before an interview that has taken many days – and several false starts – to organise.
Two years after she moved to the UK her passport expired, and the Saudi embassy refused to issue a new one. She is threatened with deportation because her visa has also run out. A mystery backer gives her a regular income.
“I would like the king to send an envoy to solve all these problems and give me guarantees,” she said, adding that she had nothing but respect for the monarch.
A previous attempt to entice her home was a disaster: as she met a Saudi official at the Dorchester Hotel in February last year, her security detail became convinced of a possible kidnapping risk. Their surveillance notes will be handed to the Home Office.
She will further argue that she has been subjected “to a litany of serious crimes, including threats, assault, an attempted kidnapping and the attempted abduction of my children”. The motives, she believes, are political.
Princess Sara believes forces, acting independently of the king, her father and close family, are behind the alleged criminal acts.
She claims that she was assaulted outside the Saudi embassy by an official who tried to grab her arm. The police were not called because the princess was trying to avoid a scandal.
She has become the victim of a internet smear campaign questioning her mental stability and connecting her to the Saudi opposition and Hizbollah – allegations she denies. She wants to fight back. “I am not brave at all,” she said, “I just see a cause. I know what is right and what is wrong. I have to stick to it. I want my rights and my dignity back.”
Yet she does not wish to challenge King Abdullah`s authority, nor that of Sharia. “I am a threat because I am a reformer from within. My way is the modern Islamic way,” she said.
A Saudi princess has caused problems for Anglo-Saudi relations before. In 1980, the British ambassador was expelled and export orders cancelled after ITV broadcast Death of a Princess about the execution of a princess for adultery.
Princess Sara is trying to bring up her four teenage children in a “strict but loving environment”. During the interview, one son sent her a text message asking what film they should watch that evening. She is trying to lead, she says, a normal life. The circumstances, however, are exceptional.
A Saudi embassy diplomat said: “The embassy has been involved in settling her visa issue and residency issue in the UK. We have tried to settle this issue. This matter is of a personal nature so there is only so much the government can do. It`s not a political matter.
© The Telegraph Online 2012. Telegraph Media Group Ltd.
Princess in kidnap plot plea
July 09, 2012
A SAUDI princess who fears she is at the centre of a kidnap plot is seeking asylum in the UK.
Pampered Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz claims officials in Saudi Arabiaare planning to smuggle her back to the Middle East.
Meanwhile she is living in a guarded top London hotel suite with her four children and two dogs while UK authorities decide if she should stay.
The granddaughter of Saudi Arabia founder King Abdulaziz told the Home Office she wanted asylum on Friday as she feared being snatched.
The 38-year-old single mum faces deportation after her visa ran out.
Known as “Little Barbie” to her 14 siblings, the Royal claims she is the subject of a hate campaign back home.
Princess Sara first came to the UK in 2007 after a row with her dad Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
She said: “I`ve been physically abused. I`ve been mentally abused. My assets have been frozen. I`ve been crucified in every way.”
© 2012 News Group Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Saudi son-in-law wife-beater: Canadian mom
April 29, 2009
JEDDAH: Despite recent reports that Nathalie Morin is living happily with her husband and their three children in the Kingdom, Morin`s mother Johanne Durocher is still fighting to bring her daughter and three grandchildren back to Canada while accusing her son-in-law of being “abusive and manipulative.”
Durocher, who spoke to Arab News recently by telephone from her home in Longueuil, a city near Montreal, described her daughter`s situation saying: “She is sequestrated, locked in the house, has no friends or family there and rarely has enough food in the house to feed herself and her children.”
Speaking candidly, Durocher also said that it is hard to reach her daughter with her only contacts being rare e-mails and the mobile phone number of her son-in-law, Saeed Al-Shahrani.
“I am very careful in what I ask her and say because I know if he suspects I am getting or giving her information, then I know Saeed will beat her up again,” Durocher said.
These are accusations that Al-Shahrani denied in a November interview with Arab News.
“Nathalie went back and forth (from the Kingdom to Canada) on her own will many times,” he said, adding that their life was happy and normal until Nathalie`s mother came to visit in December 2005.
“My mother-in-law did not approve of our customs and lifestyle, and she started to turn her daughter against our life.” But Durocher maintains that her daughter is in an abusive relationship, and has been sequestered by her husband.
“If she were happy with a husband from Saudi Arabia, Italy, or France, I would be happy for her and visit her often,” she told Arab News.
“It is true that I have done all I can to get Nathalie out of Saudi Arabia after I visited because I saw what she is going through. He hit her in front of me and calls her `stupid`. I have gotten e-mails from Nathalie in the past complaining of having no food, being locked in the house and being abused.”
Durocher also claimed that the beatings began in May 2005 even before she visited. She further said that Al-Shahrani was deported from Canada and would do anything to return.
“He took pictures of the bruises and abrasions on Nathalie and told her to call me and say that a taxi driver tried to rape her and beat her up and that I should call the Canadian media and complain to ask Nathalie come back to Canada, but only with her husband,” she said.
“This is why I believe that he started abusing Nathalie and has begun hitting my eldest grandson, Samir. He wants to cause the Saudi government and human rights organizations there to allow him to travel to Canada freely, claiming he wants his rights as a father if he allows them to return to Canada.”
Al-Shahrani reportedly turned down a plea from his mother-in-law to allow his wife and two children to return to Canada without him, saying that he would reconsider if allowed to visit his family regularly. The Canadian Embassy also offered Al-Shahrani visitation rights of his children suggesting a future meeting in a neutral European country. But Al-Shahrani declined saying he could not afford the travel expenses.
Al-Shahrani also claimed that to improve their domestic situation Princess Sara bint Musaed gave his family a house while Princess Al-Johara bint Naif furnished the house completely to improve their domestic situation. Durocher confirmed this claim.
“It is true the Saudi princesses have given much to Saeed,” she said. “A house, furniture, and twice (they) donated large sums of money to him, amounting to around SR50,000 in addition to giving him a 2008 Corolla.”
But according to Durocher, he used the money to buy himself gifts and expensive clothing.
“He never eats at home and has his meals at restaurants,” she said. “But he keeps my girl locked in the apartment with no food. He sold his car and kept the money.”
Durocher says that because his schemes have not worked he has obliged his wife to close her case filed to the governmental Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia and has called the Canadian Embassy to say that Nathalie doesn`t want to come back to Canada anymore.
Andrea Meyer, media spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy, said that the mission has been “strictly involved with the longstanding case” and “actively offering continued support” to Morin. Citing the sensitivity of the case, Meyer offered no further comment.
When asked why she continues to campaign for the return of her daughter and grandchildren to Canada despite reports that Nathalie is happy, Durocher said: “It is because I know they are not well and that they are depending on help from me.”
© Copyright: Arab News 2009
Briefing – Saudi princesses
June 06, 2002
A Saudi princess is to plead no contest to a charge of assaulting her Indonesian maid in Orlando, Florida.
Q: She`s off to jail?
A: Princess Buniah al-Saud could have been jailed for 15 years if the original charges of felony battery had stood. Now, she need only pay a $1000 fine.
Q: Because she is innocent?
A: Because she is a Saudi princess.
Q: A rare breed?
A: Hard to say, since Saudi Arabia`s royal family guards its anonymity like its oil wells. Estimates of the number of princes and princesses vary from 2000-5000.
Q: How can there be so many?
A: The founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdel Aziz Al Saud, had 16 wives and 42 sons who went on to marry and produce more princes and princesses. In addition, Islam permits a man four wives and divorce is allowed.
Q: What do the royals do?
A: The men run the oil business, the women stay at home or fly abroad to shop.
Q: Air fares are that cheap?
A: Free flights are just one of the perks of being a royal.
A: Free phone calls, free electricity, and six-figure allowances. It is this money that fuels the intercontinental shopping trips.
Q: To the Edinburgh Woollen Mill?
A: To London, Paris, and New York. One bodyguard to several princesses spoke of them spending (pounds) 50,000 in one afternoon.
Q: A cry for help?
A: Possibly. Women in Saudi Arabia, including princesses, lead severely restricted lives. They are not allowed to drive, for example, and are segregated in public.
Q: What do princesses do for fun?
A: The latest craze is surfing the internet. This hobby has proved controversial, however.
A: The princesses have been forgetting to log off, resulting in phone bills running into millions of dollars.
Q: Cash needed for lawyers` bills?
A: It would be unfair to say that every princess ends up in court after falling out with her maid, but there have been several “misunderstandings”. In the last high-profile case, also in Orlando, a princess was accused of beating her servants.
Q: What can the maids do?
A: Some run away. Others, like Ismiyati Suryono, maid to princess Buniah, get a lawyer and sue for damages.
Q: She won?
A: Terms of the settlement were not released, but it is fair to assume Ms Suryono can afford her own maid now.
© 2002 SMG Newspapers Ltd Not Available for Re-dissemination.
U.S. Looks at Whether Saudi Princess Enslaved Maid
By BLAINE HARDEN
The New York Times
January 05, 2002
Saudi Princess Buniah al-Saud, 41, niece of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, is shown in the Orange County Jail in Orlando, Florida, December 18, 2001 during her first appearance hearing on charges of felony aggravated battery, dealing with stolen property and grand theft. Orange County Sheriff`s deputies said she was charged with beating her servant, Memet Ismiyati, and pushing her down a flight of stairs. The princess has been living inOrlando, Florida while studying English at the University of Central Florida. REUTERS
ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 4 — The Justice Department is investigating whether a Saudi princess, arrested here last month on charges that she pushed her maid down a flight of stairs, held the live-in Indonesian maid in conditions of involuntary servitude.
Princess Buniah al-Saud, 41, a niece of King Fahd and granddaughter of the founder of the Saudi kingdom, was living in an Orlando town house and studying English at the University of Central Florida when she was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated battery.
The maid, Ismiyati Memet Soryono, later told the authorities that the princess had withheld her $200-a-month wages for two months before the Dec. 14 incident.
Ms. Soryono`s lawyer, Russell Troutman, said: “This is my second royal-princess-beating-up-a-maid case, and based on what I have heard from my clients, I think the federal government has a role to play in looking at the question of involuntary servitude.”
A lawyer for the princess, Mark Schnapp of Miami, said there was “absolutely no basis” for such an investigation.
Mr. Schnapp, who said the princess was still in the United States but would not say where, said federal authorities had not contacted him or his client about their investigation.
A judge here confiscated Princess Buniah`s passport, but allowed her to leave the Orlando area. Orange County sheriff`s deputies say they believe she may be in Washington.
According to the initial complaint with the sheriff`s office, Princess Buniah slapped Ms. Soryono, 36, and pushed her down a flight of stairs. The princess was also charged with grand theft and dealing in stolen property; the sheriff`s office said she subsequently sold her chauffeur`s large-screen television and other goods worth $6,000 to raise cash to flee Orlando without leaving a paper trail.
Princess Buniah was arrested on Dec. 17, three days after her maid complained to police. At the time, the princess was staying in a $525-a-night suite at the Hyatt Grand Cypress Hotel in Orlando.
The princess was not arrested at the time of the complaint because she claimed that she had diplomatic immunity. It took the sheriff`s office three days to find out she did not.
An investigator from the Justice Department in Washington and an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Orlando began an investigation here after Ms. Soryono claimed that Princess Buniah had been withholding her salary. The maid said in a civil suit filed last month that she had no money to leave the princess`s apartment and “nowhere to go but to continue to endure repeated if not daily acts of violence.”
Justice Department officials said the accusations were sufficiently serious to warrant an investigation.
In 2000, Congress established penalties of up 20 years in prison for people who bring immigrants into the United States and force them into involuntary servitude.
Ms. Soryono moved to Orlando last spring with Princess Buniah, when the princess enrolled at the university.
Orlando is the No. 1 destination in the United States for Saudis, according to the State Department. They are attracted by the city`s many amusement parks, which provide safe and highly organized recreation, said Abraham Pizam, professor of tourism management at the University of Central Florida.
A relatively large number of Saudis also come to the region for schooling, Professor Pizam said.
Each summer for decades, Orlando attracted many members of the Saudi royal family. They often came with large entourages, going on extravagant shopping trips and sometimes taking over entire floors of luxury hotels near the theme parks.
The royal visits have occasionally been marked by more than conspicuous consumption. In 1995, according to Orange County deputies, Princess Maha al-Sudairi beat a maid and another servant after $200,000 in cash and jewelry disappeared from a luggage room in the Swan Hotel, at Walt Disney World.
Mr. Troutman, the Orlando personal injury lawyer for Ms. Soryono, also represented the maid in the 1995 case.
In addition to cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, Ms. Soryono told Mr. Troutman, she was required to stay beside Princess Buniah 24 hours a day. She said that she had to stand just outside the shower with a towel ready while the princess bathed.
Ms. Soryono, who was born in Indonesia and moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1990`s to do domestic work, has been employed by Princess Buniah for three years, Mr. Troutman said.
The maid told the sheriff`s department that she feared for her well-being before being pushed down the stairs.
“We think that with the relationship deteriorating, the princess didn`t want to give the maid the resources to leave,” Mr. Troutman said. “She was, in effect, a prisoner in the house of the royal princess.”
Mr. Schnapp, the lawyer for Princess Buniah, denied that the maid was being held against her will.
“We will answer any question that any law enforcement authority has about this inquiry,” he said. “There is another side to this, and I am going to present it to the state, not to you.”
Justice Department officials said that they look for evidence of coercion or threats to make a case for involuntary servitude. They said a case could be pursued even if a victim was receiving a salary.
“We often see cases where people are being paid a piddling amount of money and told, `If you don`t like it, you will have to stay or you will be hurt,`” one Justice Department official said.
In the last two years, the department has obtained involuntary-servitude convictions involving maids in Florida, Las Vegas, New York and the suburbs ofWashington. Department officials said they could not recall any prosecutions of Saudi subjects.
“These domestic servitude cases are not new to us,” a lawyer at the Justice Department said. “This is an ongoing problem.”
© 2002 New York Times Company