Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, told his close aides that Trump had given his explicit support for a power grab, which involved the arrests of 11 princes and hundreds of officials and businessmen in midnight raids across the kingdom.
A source close to the Saudi leader, known by his initials MBS, told DailyMail.com that Salman ‘bragged’ about his cozy relationship with the U.S. president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, claiming that the president backed Salman’s takeover.
The claim closely matches an insider account in Michael Wolff’s explosive book ‘Fire and Fury’ that the president told his friends, ‘We’ve put our man on top!’ – implying that he and Kushner had engineered the Saudi coup.
The princes, including one of the world’s richest men, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, were arrested suddenly at the beginning of November, held in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, and – a source told Dailymail.com later that month – being tortured.
Saudi authorities want to claw back $100 billion in assets which they claim the detainees have made through corruption. Many appear to have made settlements with the authorities to gain their freedom.
The White House declined to comment to DailyMail.com but Wolff’s book revealed the warm relations with MBS and reported how Trump told friends: ‘Jared’s gotten the Arabs totally on our side. Done deal.’
Wolff writes that Salman, 32, befriended Kushner, 37, after the U.S. election, and ‘offered himself to Kushner as his guy in the Saudi kingdom.’
MBS was deputy crown prince at the time, but in March 2017 he was the first Muslim and first Middle Eastern leader to score a meeting with Trump at the White House.
Wolff’s book says the relationship between Trump’s team and the ambitious Saudi prince was cemented when the White House chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign destination as president in May last year.
During their lavish reception in the kingdom, Trump, Kushner and their wives Melania and Ivanka were ‘ferried around in gold golf carts’ and treated to a $75 million party in the president’s honor, where Trump was seated on a ‘thronelike chair,’ Wolff wrote. The reception was off-camera.
Salman and Trump struck a $350 billion arms deal, and in May MBS’s father King Salman made him crown prince, deposing Prince Muhammad bin Nayef who had been heir to the throne.
And in October, Kushner made a third, secret, trip to the kingdom where The Washington Post reported he ‘stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights’ with MBS, just a few days before the November round-up.
Now DailyMail.com can disclose that MBS has told his own inner circle that his support from Trump did not end there, and extends to details of his financial plans.
Trump, he has said, agreed to allow the Saudi leader to seize all the U.S. assets of the Saudi officials he arrested in November, according to the source.
The assets include ‘real estate, companies, private jets, yachts and huge amounts of cash in short and long term investments,’ the source said.
Salman arrested 11 Saudi princes and 190 officials and businessmen on November 4, ostensibly as the result of a two-year corruption investigation, and has been interrogating them for weeks.
The claim of approval from Trump to proceed with the round-up comes from a source in Saudi Arabia.
‘Trump promised MBS the White House will provide all support needed to facilitate the transfer of all cash and assets on U.S. soil belonging to the detained royals to the direct control/ownership of the Saudi embassy in Washington,’ said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.
The source said MBS had said Trump had two conditions for the agreement. First that ‘all these assets remain in American banks and never ever get transferred back to Saudi Arabia.’
The president’s second condition was that ‘the transfer must be based on a power of attorney signed by the detained royals, by the Saudi foreign and justice ministries, and notarized by the US embassy in Riyadh,’ the source said.
The assets which the Saudi Arabian government wants to seize include the arrested Alwaleed’s multi-billion dollar investment company Kingdom Holding. He owns 95 per cent of it, having floated five per cent on the Saudi stock market.
DailyMail.com disclosed in November that Alwaleed, whose net worth is estimated at $17 billion, was among those being tortured.
Kingdom Holding owns substantial stakes in tech firms including Twitter, Lyft, Snapchat firm Snap Inc and Ebay.
Other holdings include the Four Seasons Hotel chain in which Kingdom Holdings and Bill Gates are majority owners and a significant stake in Citigroup, the parent company of Citibank.
Alwaleed owns a yacht formerly owned by Trump and a private Boeing 747 jet upholstered in gold and fitted with a throne – which will also be seized, according to the Saudi source.
The prince had been a fierce critic of Trump in the run-up to the election, using his twitter account to criticize him.
Alwaleed was moved recently from the Ritz Carlton to Al-Ha’ir prison, south of Riyadh, which is also used to hold terror suspects and those protesting the kingdom’s human rights abuses.
This weekend it was revealed he is in talks to ‘settle’ his case but had not succeeded in satisfying MBS.
‘He offered a certain figure but it doesn’t meet the figure required from him, and the attorney-general hasn’t approved it,’ a Saudi government official told Reuters.
Another source told the news agency that he had offered to make a ‘donation’ to the Saudi government, which would avoid any admission of wrongdoing, and to do so from assets of his own choosing. But the government refused those terms, the source said.
Questions over what is happening to him and to Kingdom Holding had mounted.
A report in The Times in December said that Alwaleed was facing a demand for $7 billion and still holding out.
Companies in which Alwaleed holds a significant stake did not respond to requests for comment from Dailymail.com.
The sticking point was that Alwaleed had offered 95 per cent of his Kingdom stake, but MBS wanted cash or assets, the Financial Times reported.
It is unclear exactly what would happen if Alwaleed ceased holding 95 per cent of Kingdom Holdings and whether it would have to be declared to regulatory authorities in the U.S., UK and other countries where companies he has stakes in are registered.
However he also has more tangible assets, the source said.
‘Prince Alwaleed owns a lot of properties in Morocco, in Casablanca, and a lot of bank accounts loaded with cash,’ said the source, adding: ‘But retrieving those assets is proving a little more difficult.’
MBS said last month week that ’95 percent’ of the suspects charged with corruption have agreed to a settlement.
‘We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement,’ MBS told the New York Times.
‘About one percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About four percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court.’
MBS added that his public prosecutor suggested it could eventually ‘be around $100 billion in settlements.’
One of the other detainees still being held is Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who had been deputy governor of Riyadh province in the past and also alleged to have gifted a Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, $700 million in a part of a massive corruption scandal.
And Osama bin Laden’s half-brother, Bakr bin Laden, was also among those held. He is the head of the family construction firm, which is spelled Binladin.
His personal net worth was estimated at $7 billion. The Financial Times reported that some of the family firm’s shares had been transferred to the Saudi government, with people close to the family saying that Bakr bin Laden and his brothers had reached a settlement with the authorities.
Some of the seized funds from the arrested princes and billionaires may be used to underwrite NEOM, the Crown Prince’s planned $500 billion high-tech metropolis.
Proceeds may also go towards servicing the Kingdom’s $79 billion budget deficit, which has grown from a fall in oil prices and subsequent recession in the country.