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Saudi Arabia orders review into MBS charity following involvement in scandals

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman n Washington, US on 20 March 2018 [Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images]
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Washington, US on 20 March 2018 [Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images]

The Saudi government has ordered a review to be conducted into Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s key charity following its involvement in a series of alleged scandals, a Saudi official has revealed.

According to the UK-based Financial Times, the anonymous Saudi official said that Bin Salman’s charity foundation Misk is now under review after the US Justice Department indicated that it was involved in covert activities, including espionage on behalf of the crown prince by actively recruiting agents in the US.

The lawsuit filed last November by former Saudi intelligence chief Saad Al-Jabri, who is now exiled in Canada and was reportedly targeted in a failed assassination attempt by Saudi intelligence in 2018, hinted at a top organisation run by the crown prince that was involved in recruiting spies in the social media giant Twitter.

While the filing by the US Justice Department does not mention Misk and its former Secretary-General Bader Al-Asaker by name, it hints at their involvement by referring to “Organisation No 1” which was founded by a Saudi royal and run by “Foreign Official-1”. This coincides with both Misk and Al-Asaker being named as defendants in the lawsuit last month, alongside the crown prince himself.

READ: Case against MBS in US court ‘public relations’

The lawsuit alleges that the former Twitter employees accused of spying for Saudi Arabia in 2014 and 2015 were in contact with Foreign Official-1, who offered “gifts, cash payments and promises of future employment in exchange for non-public information about Twitter users.” This information was intended to be used both for monitoring and tracking down Saudi dissidents and critics, as well as for search for Al-Jabri.

According to the anonymous Saudi official, the allegations against Misk have “brought scrutiny to something that has done phenomenal things…I’m pretty sure the crown prince was furious that this jewel was linked to this.”

The lawsuit by Al-Jabri asserted that the organisation and the official matches the description of Misk and Al-Asaker, alleging that they conspired with the crown prince to “covertly recruit individuals to serve as agents and who participated in the hunt” for Al-Jabri in the US. According to the lawsuit, those recruited were offered employment in Misk as a “reward”, along with the other bribes.

In addition to Al-Jabri’s allegations against the charity, someone close to his family is cited in the lawsuit as reporting that suspicions about Misk’s role were raised in 2017 when some of its employees asked a son of Al-Jabri about his parents’ contact details and other information about his residency in the US.

That incident reportedly coincides with the time the crown prince sent threatening messages to al-Jabri after he fled the kingdom, attempting to get the former intelligence chief to return.

According to the Financial Times, Misk referred its questions to the Saudi media department, which did not respond.

OPINION: Co-option of religion by Saudi’s MBS spells disaster

Misk, a charity founded by Bin Salman “to cultivate and encourage learning and leadership in youth for a better future in Saudi Arabia,” has been at the centre of his campaign to reform the kingdom’s image and his own branding internationally. Over the years it managed to establish partnerships with prominent organisations such as the UN, the Gates Foundation, Bloomberg, Harvard University and General Electric.

Following the assassination of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, along with other emerging scandals, the Gates Foundation and Harvard University cut their ties with Misk. It continues to operate with ties to the remaining and new companies, however.

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