Saudi prince sued in UK over sale of opulent jet to Gaddafi

LONDON Wed Jun 26, 2013 4:37pm BST

Libyan rebel fighters sit at the sitting room of Muammar Gaddafi's private plane at the international airport in Tripoli in an August 28, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/files

Libyan rebel fighters sit at the sitting room of Muammar Gaddafi's private plane at the international airport in Tripoli in an August 28, 2011 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra/files

LONDON (Reuters) - The secretive sale of a private jet to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi by a billionaire Saudi prince came under scrutiny on Wednesday in a London courtroom, where a businesswoman who says she brokered the deal is suing the prince for $10 million (6.5 million pounds).

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and one of the world's richest men, is expected to give evidence, in what would be an extremely rare instance of a senior Saudi royal being cross-examined in court.

The jet in question has a history as colourful as its customised interior which boasted a king-size bed and a meeting room with a throne-like leather armchair.

Gaddafi sent the plane to pick up Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi when he was freed from a Scottish jail in 2009, and was shown off as a trophy by rebels who toppled Gaddafi in 2011 and were photographed on its silver-coloured leather sofas.

Daad Sharab, a Jordanian businesswoman who had high-level contacts in Saudi Arabia and Libya, says Prince Alwaleed sold the Airbus A340 to Gaddafi for $120 million in a protracted process that lasted from 2001 to 2006.

Sharab, 52, says the prince promised her $10 million in commission but she received nothing. Alwaleed's lawyers say she "played no part in the ultimate sale of the aircraft" and is not entitled to payment.

The case is linked to Britain because Sharab has an apartment in the country where she resides for some of the year and says she agreed the commission with a representative of the prince in a London restaurant in 2001.

In her written witness statement to the court, seen by Reuters, Sharab describes a long business relationship with the prince. She says that in 2003, at the height of negotiations over the aircraft, he asked her to marry him.

"I do not know whether he was sincere about this but I did not think he was joking," she says.

Despite her rejection of the marriage proposal, she says she continued to act for the prince in negotiations and that it was only after the deal was finally completed in August 2006 that he cut her off and refused to pay.

Dressed in a smart black-and-white jacket, with sparkling jewellery, Sharab began giving evidence on Wednesday and is due to continue on Thursday. The prince is expected to give evidence on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Sharab's witness statement describes a rarefied world where multi-million-dollar deals were discussed on the prince's yacht off the French Riviera, in exclusive hotels, during flights on private jets, and in Gaddafi's tent.

In a separate legal action in London, Prince Alwaleed is suing Forbes magazine for libel over an investigative article into his wealth. He says the magazine's valuation of his fortune at $20 billion was short of the mark by $9.6 billion.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)