LONDON — The secret Christian wife of the late King of Saudi Arabia has been awarded $40 million after a judge in London ruled that she was entitled to receive the hush money she had been promised to keep their relationship out of the public eye.
The High Court ruling handed down in public Tuesday raised questions over whether King Fahd and his surviving family had in fact benefitted from the pact of silence, but they were ordered to pay up nonetheless.
Janan Harb, now 68, was just 19 when she says she married the future King of Saudi in a secret ceremony. He told her that he could not be seen to marry a girl from a Christian family even though she converted to Islam ahead of the wedding. She claims the king forced her to have three abortions.
Two years after the alleged secret wedding, Harb says she was exiled when the Saudi royal family accused her of getting Fahd hooked on methadone. She admitted in court that she saw this exile as equivalent to a divorce, and she went on to marry two other men.
Judge Peter Smith ruled Tuesday that Fahd’s original promise to look after his secret wife for the rest of her life still held weight.
He said he accepted Harb’s claim that Fahd’s son, Prince Abdul Aziz, had come to London in 2003, two years before his father died, to renew the promise and offer to pay her $18 million as long as she kept the relationship secret.
Prince Aziz accepts that his father made sizeable cash payments to Harb over the years but denied that they were ever formally married.
Harb, who was born in the Palestinian territories, has now been awarded $23 million in cash and ownership of two apartments worth $15 million, which overlook the Thames on the storied Cheyne Walk, where British greats including George Eliot, J.M.W. Turner, Mick Jagger, and Laurence Olivier once lived. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of Harb’s current neighbors.
Needless to say, she was delighted with today’s ruling. “This has been 12 years of misery for me. Thank God we have British justice. The prince wanted me to go to Saudi Arabia where he would had power over all this,” she said. “I am very relieved. I only wish he could have honored his father’s wishes…he is being very mean.”
The Saudis may have blown their chances in the case by refusing to allow Prince Abdul Aziz to travel London to give his side of the story in July when the case was heard. The judge was told that King Salman, Fahd’s brother, had forbidden the trip lest the trial become a “media circus.”
Judge Smith ordered the prince to pay $38,000 to charity for contempt of court, but more costly was the impact on his ruling. In summing up, he said the nub of the case had been whether he believed Prince Aziz or Harb’s account of the 2003 meeting at the Dorchester hotel.
The lawyer representing Prince Aziz admitted that his defense case had been “severely handicapped—fatally so in my view—by the fact that the defendant chose not to give evidence before me in support of his own case.”
Ultimately, the judge ruled that Harb’s testimony had been convincing even though he found her motive’s “unattractive.”
“Notwithstanding that criticism I am of the view that she is telling the truth about the agreement,” he said. “In effect she was seeking substantial funds from the defendant as a price for her silence in respect of private matters that affected the late king.”
He was scathing in describing Harb’s bookkeeping. She was declared bankrupt in 2008 despite receiving a 2001 payoff by the Saudi royal family of $7.7 million.
The judge said she had “a lavish lifestyle” and wasted at least $130,000 gambling. Even after paying millions in debts, she had burned through the remaining $2.9 million in seven years.
“It is fair to say that she maintained a high-maintenance lifestyle as she says to which she had become accustomed whilst being supported by the king,” he said.
Between 1970 and 2001, Harb received tens of millions of dollars from the Saudis. In a statement, she explained that Fahd had been compelled to keep their relationship secret because of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy.
“Fahd was concerned about how this would be viewed by the Saudi public, many of whom follow a strict interpretation of Islam that preaches deep enmity and hostility to all other religions. It was for this reason that in March 1968 we underwent a discreet ceremony of marriage.”
She said she got pregnant three times during their short life together but had an abortion at Fahd’s request on each occasion “because of his concern over the outcry if it had become known that Fahd had fathered a child with a woman from my background.”