London: An influential Saudi prince and one of the world’s richest men was on Tuesday accused of telling “lies” and being “untruthful” during several hours of bruising cross examination in a High Court dispute.
Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, the billionaire investor, was giving evidence for a second day in a lawsuit brought by a Jordanian businesswoman who claims that the Saudi prince failed to pay her $10 million (Dh36.72 million) commission for her role in brokering the $120 million sale of one of his private jets to Colonel Muammer Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader.
Clive Freedman QC, representing businesswoman Daad Sharab, accused the prince of being “untruthful” in a letter to Muammar Gaddafi where the prince had claimed he originally bought the plane for $135 million.
However Freedman told the court that the Saudi prince had actually paid $95 million for the plane which he later sold to Gaddafi.
Freedman put it to the prince in a series of heated exchanges that this was a “lie about the original cost of the aircraft”, adding: “It is corrupt to say to a buyer you paid $135 million for aeroplane when you paid $95 million.”
The prince, who is an significant investor in Citigroup and News International, said the Gaddafi letter was a “tactic used with the Libyans”.
“You might call it a lie, I call it a tactic,” he told the court, adding that dealing with the Libyans was “not straightforward”.
Gaddafi had paid $70 million but later failed to pay the remaining balance of $50 million to the prince and so the prince took the plane back to Saudi Arabia for re-registration until the remaining payment was made, the court heard.
The prince told the court he wanted to put “maximum pressure” on Gaddafi to pay up, adding: “You have to recognise we deal with a rogue state and we had to act in kind.”
Trial judge Justice Peter Smith who is hearing the case told the prince that his letter detailing the price of the plane was “untrue”. The judge also added to the prince: “Just because they [Libyans] behaved badly doesn’t justify you behaving badly — you do not stoop to their level.”
In a series of further interjections the trial judge also asked whether the parties had held settlement talks and warned them that he may have to make a finding in the case on whether one or both parties “is lying”.
“I despair frankly,” Justice Smith told both parties in court. “That two people who were obviously friends and business acquaintances are driven to a situation where for six days each one has called the other a liar.”
Earlier Freedman QC reminded the court about the Saudi prince’s concern for his reputation and the libel action he had begun in the High Court against Forbes magazine which he is suing for allegedly underestimating his fortune.
In what is believed to be the first appearance at the High Court by a member of the Saudi royal family, the prince confirmed that he had asked Sharab to negotiate with Gaddafi on the sale of either his Boeing or Airbus aircraft. “No one denies Mrs Sharab did a good job,’ the prince told the court adding that she had later “stabbed him in the back” and “switched to the Libyan side”.
On any commission payout to Sharab, the prince said the amount was “based on my discretion”.
He told the court she had opened doors to him only in Libya as “the doors were very much open to me in 140 countries”.