Saudi prince Abdel Mohsin Bin Walid Bin Abdul-Aziz was detained by Lebanese authorities at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport on October 26, 2015. Two tons of amphetamines (fenethylline) and some cocaine were found onboard his private plane before it took off to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime 2014 report, “Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria accounting for more than 55% of amphetamines seized worldwide.”
Stimulants are popular with Sunni and Shiite fighters in the Syrian war and the huge profits in the illegal drug market may be seen by some princes as a good way to supplement declining oil revenues. However, Saudis have used profits from illegal drugs to fund al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist groups. Indeed, Abdel Mohsin Bin Walid Bin Abdul-Aziz is not the first Saudi prince caught trafficking illegal drugs.
In 1998 and 1999 the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) followed a deal to ship more than two tons of cocaine from Colombia to Caracas, Venezuela. From there then shipped via “diplomatic pouch” to Le Bourget airport in Paris via a Skyways International Boeing 727. The plane was registered to Skyways International of Saudi Arabia but was actually owned by Saudi prince Nayif bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan al-Saud, – aka “El Principe.”
When the private plan laded at Paris’s Le Bourget Airport, the prince and his companions were arrested by the French authorities. But the French didn’t hold the Saudi “El Principe” for long. It gave in to the Saudi government pressure, using France’s Thales $7 billion dollar radar defense contract to get the prince released. The details of this arrangement were found in a confidential French diplomatic cable dated February 21, 2000. By 2007, however, the Saudis apparently lost leverage because in May that year, a French court sentenced Nayif, in absentia, to ten years in prison and a fine of $100 million.
The grandson of King Abdul-Aziz, the founder of the Saudi Kingdom, and related to the late King Abdullah through his brother who married a daughter of the King, El Principe” enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Nayif (born 1956) lived in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s studied at Miami University and at Princeton University and is said to speak nine languages. He resided in Geneva, described himself as an investor in Colombian and Venezuelan oil, but not in illegal drugs and money laundering, from which he greatly benefited.
Nayif was known to the DEA. He was indicted on drug charges in 1984, in Mississippi, but remained a fugitive. Apparently the DEA was aware that “El Principe” was in contact with the “Colombian cartel of Carlos Zapata” and that large part of the estimated $30 million derived from the cocaine sale, would be used to finance an Islamist movement.
In 1999, as the drug deal was moving forward, Nayif and his twin brother founded the Kanz Bank of Switzerland, which at that time billed itself as “the only Islamic private bank in Geneva.” The bank had 15 employees and prominent Swiss “faces for hire” were on its board of directors, including a former manager of the Swiss central bank. Kanz Bank was allied to the Bammer Financial Trade Corporation of Geneva (also founded in 1999), and Capital Trust SA of Barcelona, which were allegedly involved in funding al Qaeda. Reportedly, funds derived from the cocaine sale were to be laundered by Nayif’s Kanz Bank.
A May 3, 2005, the DEA announced the conviction of Nayif’s co-conspirators in a Federal Court in Florida. According to the Press-Release, “In December 1998, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, all four defendants and the Colombian drug traffickers, were taken by Al-Shaalan to an encampment in the desert. There the defendants and the co-conspirators discussed the details of a drug transportation scheme. Specifically, the Colombian drug traffickers agreed to “front” all of the cocaine and deliver the cocaine to Al-Shaalan in Caracas, Venezuela. Al-Shaalan would then transport the cocaine to Paris, France, aboard his private jet. Once in Paris, the Colombian drug traffickers would regain possession of the cocaine. After sale of the cocaine, valued at over $30 million dollars, Al-Shaalan would take half of the profits in United States currency as payment for the transportation of the cocaine. Lopez Vanessa and Salazar were to be paid a brokerage fee.”
Curiously, despite evidence that Nayif initiated the drug deal, the DEA agent announcing the conviction, said: “In this case, the drug traffickers used powerful people to create a facade of legitimacy to help them conceal their drug trafficking activities.”
As for Lebanon, it has long been known as an international transit point for South American cocaine, other illegal drugs, arms and people smuggling. And this “Switzerland of the Middle East is also known for its efficient money laundering and terrorist financing services. An official indictment of Prince Abdel Mohsin may provide important information about all this. However, Saudi pressure carries at least as much weight in Lebanon, as in France. So, don’t hold your breath.