Rare gifts awarded by Saudi Arabia to former US President Donald Trump during his first official visit to the kingdom in 2017 are fakes according to an investigation into their origins and whereabouts by the State Department.
As many as 82 different items were gifted to Trump and his team during the two-day summit which sparked years of chaos and mayhem in the region including the decision by Riyadh along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to impose a blockade on their neighbour Qatar.
The State Department recently disclosed a list of the gifts from the Saudis to Trump administration officials on the trip in response to a Freedom of Information Act. Details of the disclosure were reported in the New York Times. They include gifts that ranged from relatively low-cost sandals and scarves to expensive items like furs and daggers.
A White House lawyer had determined that possession of the furs and dagger most likely violated the Endangered Species Act, but apparently the Trump administration held onto them until the last full day of his term and failed to disclose them as gifts received from a foreign government.
When they were finally handed over, three robes made with white tiger and cheetah fur, and a dagger with a handle caught the eye of the investigating team. The furs, from an oil-rich family worth billions of dollars, it turns out, were fake.
"Wildlife inspectors and special agents determined the linings of the robes were dyed to mimic tiger and cheetah patterns and were not comprised of protected species," said Tyler Cherry, a spokesman for the Interior Department, which oversees the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The probe by the State Department into Saudi gifts is part of a wider investigation into allegations that Trump's political appointees walked off with gift bags worth thousands of dollars, that were meant for foreign leaders at the Group of 7 summit planned for Camp David in 2020, which was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Questions have also been raised over two swords and a dagger received by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner from the Saudis. Although he paid $47,920 for them along with three other gifts, they were never disclosed.
"Whether this was indifference, sloppiness or the Great Train Robbery, it shows such a cavalier attitude to the law and the regular process of government," said Stanley M Brand, a criminal defence lawyer, ethics expert and former top lawyer for the House of Representatives.