This story originally appeared in The Daily Beast newsletter, Pay Dirt. Sign up for that newsletter: HERE.
A division of Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel’s sprawling media and entertainment business has severed ties with a company owned by a powerful member of the Saudi royal family, a direct relative of the Saudi leader accused of complicity in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
International Merchandising Corp., an affiliate of Emanuel’s WME/IMG agency, notified the Department of Justice last week that it is no longer representing a company named Kingdom 5-KR-215 Ltd. The Cayman Islands-incorporated firm is owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the cousin of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and one of the world’s wealthiest men.
Though a direct relation, it’s not clear how close Alaweed is with the crown prince. Alaweed was one of a number of Saudi royal family members arrested during a leadership purge late last year, though he publicly endorsed the agenda of the royal known as MBS thereafter. Alaweed was also at one point a large shareholder in Fox News’ parent company. In 2017, the billionaire, who is close to News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch, sold his 6 percent stake in 21st Century Fox.
IMC has represented Alaweed’s company since 2010, according to records on file with DOJ, work for which it’s received more than $11.3 million. The firm “facilitated participation or dialogue by or on behalf of Kingdom 5-KR-215 Ltd. on global matters of interest to company’s brand/marketing and other commercial interests, with potential digital media partners and with business, academic/philanthropic and media figures in the United States,” IMC disclosed in periodic filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
On Nov. 19, IMC informed DOJ that its work for the company had ceased weeks earlier, on Oct. 31. That was in the middle of a firestorm over the Saudi government’s alleged role in Khashoggi's kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment. A number of Riyadh’s U.S. lobbying and public-relations firms subsequently terminated their agreements with the kingdom.
Emanuel said last month that he was “really concerned” about the Khashoggi allegations. He declined to commit to severing ties to the kingdom, but reports surfaced around that time that he was backing away from a plan to sell a $400 million stake in his talent agency to a Saudi sovereign-wealth fund.
A spokesperson for Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment on the termination of IMC’s agreement with Prince Alwaleed’s company.
Days after that agreement was terminated, Alwaleed appeared on Fox News to proclaim the Saudi government’s innocence in the Khashoggi matter. “I believe the Saudi crown prince will be 100 percent vindicated and exonerated,” he said.
The decision to cut ties is a stark departure from Emanuel’s efforts to court the Saudi royal family of late; he reportedly hosted a dinner party for the crown prince during his swing through the U.S. in the spring. Last year, Emanuel attended Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, where he spoke glowingly of the crown prince. He did not attended this year, joining a number of other high-profile names who dropped out due to the Khashoggi fallout.
Khashoggi appears to have been close to Alwaleed. Shortly before a Saudi leadership purge late last year, which saw Alwaleed imprisoned for two months at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton along with dozens of other royals and businessmen over allegations of corruption, he reached out to the journalist, reportedly praising the crown prince’s vision and urging Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia to “be part of it.”
Alwaleed’s company also shares a name with a superyacht he owns, the Kingdom 5KR, which was built for Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, the late writer’s uncle.
It was later sold to the Sultan of Brunei, who sold it to Donald Trump before creditors seized it to settle hundreds of millions of dollars in debts. It was later sold to Alaweed.
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that Emanuel attended this year's Future Investment Initiative conference. He did not. The Daily Beast regrets the error.