Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz died in Jeddah last Saturday. The 60-year-old former owner of the Saudi National Commercial Bank and banker for the Royal family also owned a charity, the Muwafaq (blessed relief) Foundation that funded al-Qaeda and Hamas, to name but a few. He should be remembered not only because of his involvement with the shady Bank for Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) aka “banks for crooks and criminals” and the illegal purchase of the First American Bank in Washington, DC, in the early 1990s, but mostly because inadvertently he led Americans to better protect their free speech rights.
Using British libel laws that allow foreigners to sue other foreigners in British courts, a practice known as libel tourism, Mahfouz became a serial suer. The gay and drug addicted Saudi , sometimes together with his sons, sued more than 40 writers and publishers - mostly Americans - because he did not like their criticism. Singlehandedly, on behalf of his royal masters Mahfouz made libel tourism a multimillion-dollar industry for the British Bar, and London the “Libel Capital” of the world.
Many will miss him. In Riyadh, the billionaire will be missed by the ruling members of the royal family who once used his National Commercial Bank as their own piggy bank, and often used him and his family members as fronts for their business and to fund their favorite organizations and terrorist groups. Likewise, those shady characters who run the Saudi-funded Muslim World League, the International Islamic Relief Agency, and the Rabita Trust of Pakistan will miss him.
Georgetown alum (1968) Prince Turki bin Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.K. and the U.S. and director of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Department from 1977 until ten days before 9/11, and overseer of Saudi financial aid to the jihad in Afghanistan, will have lost an old friend.
Mahfouz will certainly be missed by a circle of notorious Saudi plutocrats who make an appearance in the annual Forbes list of the world's wealthiest citizens. Like Mahfouz, many listed defendants in the lawsuits filed by the victims of the 9/11 attacks. There are the Rajis, the Bin Ladens, Al Amoudi, and such other disreputable individuals as designated terrorist Yassin al Qadi, who ran some of Mahfouz’s businesses and charities that funded al-Qaeda, Hamas and Abu-Sayyaf, to name but a few.
Al Qaeda, Hamas and Taliban leaders must be worried; will his sons be as generous as he was?
It is supposed that Mahfouz retained a powerful friend in Washington in James A. Baker, III. Baker, who served as chief of staff to Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush, joined Mahfouz during the roaring seventies when Houston was known as Riyadh-west. They worked together through the heady days and even through the bankruptcy of the second-largest banking organization in Texas, MCorp, in the late nineteen eighties. During the dark days of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), Mahfouz could count on Baker, his man in the White House, as well as other Washington friends to keep him out of jail, no matter how persistent the pressure applied by New York District Attorney Robert Morganthau.
Obviously, the ruling family of Abu Dhabi will be thinking different thoughts as they recall the $596 million they paid for the privilege of purchasing Mahfouz’s shares in BCCI, as they were then left holding the bag as the bank went under.
Irish politicians, particularly disgraced former prime minister Charles Haughey, will recall those wondrous days in 1990 when he received $85,000 from Mahfouz so that Mahfouz and nine members of his family would pay $1 million each to obtain an Irish passport -- thus allowing easy commercial entree to the European market.
Surviving members of the Hunt family of Texas likely have mixed feelings on the death of Mahfouz. Bunker Hunt, scion of one of the world's richest men, had used John Connally, former Governor of Texas and Secretary of the Navy, as his go-between in an effort to entice Mahfouz to join in his play to corner the market in silver bullion. Mahfouz then induced members of the Saudi royal family to join in and they, like Mahfouz, lost a fortune. Nearly driven to suicide, Mahfouz was comforted by Salem Bin Laden, perhaps his closest friend ever.
On the West Coast, Boeing directors must recall with fondness the 5% they paid Mahfouz, the fixer, to win perhaps their largest contract ever. And the middlemen in Saudi Arabia who also benefited from their involvement with Mahfouz in clinching the deal must be reminiscing.
As for Osama bin Laden, wherever he is, the al Qaeda leader probably remembers with some affection the days spent with his brother, Salem bin Laden, and Mahfouz at their jointly-held River Oaks estate in Houston, TX. With Mahfouz gone, Osama’s “golden chain” of wealthy Saudi funders has been reduced by a link.
The international law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, must be sad to have lost this wealthy and most litigious client. Likewise, the English Bar must be rather upset, especially those lawyers who represented Mahfouz.
Justice David Eady will surely miss Mahfouz. The cases he brought before Eady and Eady’s judgments made both (in)famous for making libel tourism a weapon to silence critics of Saudi Arabia the world over. Even the U.N. human rights commission warned Britain last year that its libel tourism industry has become a tool to suppress the media’s free speech rights and that it endangered national security.
The serial libel tourist Khalid bin Mahfouz is dead. But the jihad against the West he helped fund, together with pernicious British libel tourism practices, are alive and well. Unfortunately, the U.S. government did nothing to stop his activities on either front when he was alive. Now Congress has the opportunity to reverse Mahfouz’s legacy of libel tourism. New York State, Florida and Illinois have already passed anti- libel tourism laws, and another was just passed unanimously by the California legislature.
A law to protect Americans free speech is a legacy Mahfouz never intended. He was so successful in his efforts to stifle reports about him that amazingly the Western media refrained from reporting his death. However, his libel tourism led to the Free Speech Protection Act 2009, now pending in the Senate. It should pass the bill as soon as it reconvenes so that U.S. based investigative journalists, researchers and publishers no longer fear foreign libel lawsuit, but resume to expose the likes of Mahfouz before they do us more harm.