In May 2011, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal sent a note to the head of the Saudi Cabinet office to inform the king of attempts to end investigations into the smuggling of Egyptian fugitive businessman Hussein Salem’s assets with the aid of Saudi intelligence.
This note is one of a number of classified documents obtained and published exclusively from Wikileaks by Mada Masr, as part of a recent release of thousands of confidential cables from the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
The document reveals the role played by the Kingdom in influencing Egypt’s prosecution to end investigations into accusations against Prince Mansour bin Moqren bin Abdel Aziz, son of Prince Moqren, the head of the Saudi intelligence services, and his sister Princess Lamia, for allegedly helping Salem to smuggle assets from Egypt to Saudi Arabia in early 2011.
“The embassy conducted initial investigations into the matter and discovered that the incident was related to packages amounting to three tons of gold, silver, carpets and other belongings, worth LE50 million. The shipping bill [from Egypt to Saudi] was [signed] by a man identified as a Palestinian on behalf of Prince Mansour bin Moqren bin Abdel Aziz and the packages were sent from his sister Princess Lamia,” Faisal writes.
Faisal says the Saudi Embassy ensured that the packages included personal belongings owned by Salem and did not include any prohibited material. Salem is described in the document as: “Fugitive Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem, owner of Movenpick Resorts, a major arms dealer, engineer of the deal to export Egyptian natural gas to Israel and a close associate of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak.”
Faisal concludes his note by saying, “The embassy confirms that its lawyer said the issue will not lead to any legal investigations [by the Egyptian authorities]. The embassy will follow up on this and report any new findings.”
A second document from Faisal, however, reveals that this optimism was premature. In the document, sent on May 2, 2011, the Saudi foreign minister says the embassy in Cairo reported the arrest of the Palestinian man, who was detained while shipping the packages to Prince Moqren at Cairo International Airport.
The charges against the arrested Palestinian include facilitating the smuggling of assets owned by Salem in violation of a previous decision by the prosecutor general’s office to freeze these assets and violating an international treaty banning the exports of ivory and fur.
The Palestinian man had admitted to his interrogators that the packages were owned by Prince Mansour bin Moqren, who he said is a close friend of Salem, adding that the prince used to stay in Salem’s villa when he visited Egypt with his family over the years and used to bring belongings owned by his family with him.
After the eruption of the revolution in Egypt in 2011 and the suspicion raised around Salem, the prince ordered the collection of his personal belongings. The Palestinian man was ordered to do so by his boss, who was the legal advisor to the prince. The Palestinian man explained that two bags and a carpet were mistakenly packed, as they were believed to belong to the prince.
A committee from the [Ministry of] Antiquities reported that the belongings did not include any prohibited material, and only comprised antiquities that were allowed to be in circulation. The committee reported that there was an amount of silver worth LE274,000, with additional taxes worth LE4000. A committee from the Environment Ministry, however, reported that there were elephants’ teeth and fox fur in the package, which are banned from export in violation of an international treaty.
The document also refers to a meeting in Cairo between the Saudi ambassador in Cairo and a representative of Saudi intelligence, Ali al-Shamrani, who came to Cairo to look into the alleged decision by Princess Lamia bin Moqren and her lawyer to hand over the packages to the Egyptian authorities and to put an end to the matter.
The document shows that the ambassador called the embassy’s lawyer, Mohamed Sami Gamal Eddin, to express his anger, whereupon the lawyer supported him, asserting that this is a confession of smuggling and pertains to a legal misdemeanour.
Gamal Eddin explained to the ambassador that the shipment was sent to Prince Mansour bin Moqren bin Abdel Aziz and included 88 bags, seven boxes, five carpets and two bags, including personal photos and albums related to Salem. These photos are with leading Egyptian personnel, including former President Mubarak and his family, some Egyptian public figures, and international figures like Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. The bags also included membership cards for clubs in Egypt and other personal belongings.
Faisal then outlines the action plan in the document. According to this plan, the Saudi ambassador immediately requested that Egypt’s Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud receive the packages belonging to Prince Mansour bin Moqren, stipulating that they not be connected to the investigations.
Meanwhile, the embassy lawyer coordinated with the prosecutor general’s office to receive the packages owned by the prince in the following days, and to ship them directly to Saudi Arabia, after confiscating two bags owned by Salem. Then, the prosecutor would declare in the hours to follow, that Prince Mansour bin Moqren had surrendered his rights to the belongings.
Several state-owned and privately owned media outlets published the news of the confiscation of the packages, including reporting on the involvement of the two Saudi princes. But the case disappeared from the media after the prosecution ordered the release of the detained Palestinian employee after he paid a fine.
A report published by the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper on May 6, 2011, included details of the prosecution’s investigations, conducted under the supervision of Attorney General of the East Cairo Prosecution, Mostafa Khater. The report also included a detailed description of the contents of the package.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry was outraged by a report published by the weekly, privately owned Sawt al-Omma newspaper on May 8, 2011, which detailed the history of the relationship between Salem and Prince Moqren. The report also accused the Saudi regime of smuggling funds from Mubarak’s family through a complex network between Moqren in Saudi Arabia and Salem in Egypt. The report also referred to “information” about Princess Lamia, and asserted that the packages were sent to Cairo under her name.
At the end of his note, Faisal writes: “On the other hand, and through personal communications conducted by the embassy’s lawyer, all the news published in Sawt al-Omma newspaper on May 8 would be corrected, with an apology to Prince Moqren bin Abdel Aziz and his family, as well as to the Saudi ambassador in Cairo.”
Faisal also says he knew from personal sources that what Sawt al-Omma published against Moqren was facilitated by a relative of Princess Lamia in a slander attack against her for unknown reasons. “The relative’s first name is Sarah and could be her cousin.”
Mada Masr could not confirm the publishing of the correction in Sawt al-Omma, as the original report in question is no longer on the newspaper’s website. However, one of the Saudi documents published on Wikileaks’ website last week included the report in a note sent from the Embassy in Cairo.
Salem, 82, fled to Spain on February 3, 2011, a few days after January 25, 2011. Cairo Criminal Court acquitted him on June 2, 2012, as the sales in question occurred more than 10 years ago, which exceeds the statute of limitations for non-state employees to be prosecuted on corruption charges. But Salem still faces another verdict in absentia, which sentenced him to 10 years in another corruption case, as well as ongoing investigations into other complaints.
In the last few months, Salem’s lawyer in Cairo referred to ongoing negotiations with authorities to complete a reconciliation process with him and the government, in exchange for giving up some of his funds, so that he might be able to come back from Spain.