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Canadian judge rejects former Saudi spymaster's challenge of order freezing his assets

An Ontario judge has rejected an attempt by former Saudi spymaster Saad Aljabri, who now lives in Toronto, to have a worldwide freezing order lifted on hundreds of millions of dollars of his assets.

Ontario judge questions why Saad Aljabri won't respond to allegations of fraud

An Ontario judge has rejected an attempt by former Saudi spymaster Saad Aljabri, who now lives in Toronto, to have a worldwide freezing order lifted on hundreds of millions of dollars of his assets. (Submitted by Aljabri family)

An Ontario judge has rejected an attempt by a former Saudi spymaster now living in Toronto to have a worldwide freezing order lifted on hundreds of millions of dollars of his assets.

In a 30-page ruling issued Thursday, Superior Court Justice Cory Gilmore also undermined the much-publicized narrative of Saad Aljabri that a Canadian lawsuit alleging he is corrupt is part of an ongoing campaign of persecution against him by Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MBS.

Gilmore rejected evidence from a former Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism expert, and she questioned why Aljabri refuses to answer questions about allegations contained in a Toronto lawsuit that he funnelled security and counterterrorism funds to himself, his family and his associates.

The lawsuit alleges that between 2008 and 2017 Aljabri masterminded a conspiracy with at least 21 others to misappropriate $4.3 billion from Saudi companies established to support counterterrorism activities. None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven.

In her ruling, Gilmore said she agreed with the Saudi companies suing Aljabri that he had not adequately explained any of the alleged fraudulent activities documented in a 150-page forensic report prepared for the plaintiffs by the accounting firm Deloitte. 

The judge said Aljabri had instead "merely glossed over" hundreds of millions of dollars traced to him, his family and other associates.

"Without an affidavit from [Aljabri], the plaintiffs were left without a means to fully explore the issues [of fraud] raised by his counsel," Gilmore wrote.

In a ruling issued Thursday, a judge with Ontario's Superior Court of Justice, seen here in Toronto, also undermined Aljabri's much-publicized narrative that allegations he is corrupt are part of an ongoing campaign of persecution against him by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. (Google Maps)

Fraud allegations not addressed

The judge referenced the fact that Aljabri has so far not sworn an affidavit about how he came to accrue hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, including bank accounts in Europe, Malta, the British Virgin Islands, the United States and Canada, and luxury properties like his $13-million Bridle Path mansion in Toronto.

In a secret hearing in January attended only by Canadian lawyers for the Saudi companies, Gilmore granted a worldwide freezing order on Aljabri's assets based on the evidence contained in the Deloitte report and a voluminous affidavit from the chief executive officer of the holding company for the Saudi companies.

In a hearing in early February, Aljabri's lawyers sought to have the freezing order, known as a Mareva Injunction, lifted. 

They argued the plaintiff's lawyers had not disclosed relevant evidence during the secret hearing, including allegations contained in a U.S. lawsuit that MBS had plotted to kill Aljabri, even sending a hit squad to Canada. None of the allegations in the U.S. lawsuit have been proven.

Gilmore, however, noted that reports of Aljabri's "political persecution" were referenced in both oral and written submissions in the January hearing. 

Aljabri's lawyers had also asserted the plaintiffs had misled the court by claiming he fled Saudi Arabia for Turkey to evade a fraud investigation. His lawyers asserted he left Saudi Arabia because he feared for his safety. 

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters)

Gilmore found "both statements are true. If [Aljabri] had returned to (Saudi Arabia) when he was in Turkey, he would certainly have become the subject of investigation by MBS and his government."

At the hearing in February, Munaf Mohamed, the Calgary lawyer acting for the Saudi companies, told the court Aljabri "doesn't want to engage on the merits of the fraud that he has been accused of. 

"You have already found on a prima facie basis that Mr. Aljabri has committed an overwhelming case of fraud," Mohamed said, referring to Gilmore's January ruling.

He said later that Aljabri has not addressed the fraud finding because he has decided to "roll the dice and take a gamble" on a defence strategy that asserts a geopolitical conspiracy based on what Mohamed said were newspaper clippings and expert testimony from witnesses who have no direct knowledge of the facts in the case.

Aljabri's submission to the court, Mohamed said, "reads like a spy novel combined with a political opinion piece attacking the Saudi regime."

Aljabri's Toronto lawyer, Paul Le Vay, assured the court in February that Aljabri would address the fraud allegations when he has had enough time to digest three years' worth of forensic evidence produced by Deloitte.

Spy chief says he moved to Toronto for safety

Aljabri has always maintained that he fears for his life and that he fled Saudi Arabia because he knows secrets the Saudi prince does not want revealed. 

He has buttressed this claim by referencing the assassination of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, a crime directly linked to MBS by American intelligence officials. He has also referenced the fact that Saudi officials have imprisoned two of Aljabri's children. 

The former Saudi spy chief said he moved to Toronto in 2017 for his and his family's safety and claimed to have round-the-clock security guarding his home.

Mohamed, however, entered affidavits that showed a person delivering court documents was buzzed through a gate at Aljabri's Toronto mansion, walked up to the door, and spoke with someone inside.

He also produced evidence that contradicted Aljabri's claim that he had registered his Bridle Path home to a corporation as a safety precaution. Records from several banks in Canada and the U.S. clearly showed the Bridle Path address as Aljabri's home. 

Saad Aljabri's Toronto home, a $13-million Bridle Path mansion. (CBC)

In her ruling, Gilmore cited evidence from the Deloitte report that showed Aljabri received hundreds of millions of dollars after he was stripped of his government position in 2015.

"This is a case about an alleged fraud perpetrated by (Aljabri) while he was working in the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] up to 2015 — and an allegation of funds continuing to be funnelled to him and others until 2017," the judge wrote, adding that affidavits Aljabri has sworn don't address the alleged fraudulent activities.

Assets transferred to son through handwritten document

Evidence entered in court shows Aljabri claims to have transferred all his worldwide assets to one of his sons in 2017 because he said he wanted to provide for his family. But the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars was done without a lawyer and instead through a document handwritten by Aljabri. 

The court heard Aljabri's son has now left Canada and is living in the United Kingdom. 

Aljabri invested nearly $20 million in several Canadian companies. Lawyers for those companies convinced Gilmore to set aside orders that had previously forced the companies to disclose their financial records. The judge ordered those documents to be returned or destroyed. 

Lawyers for the Saudi companies will next be applying to the court to freeze assets transferred by Aljabri to his son who now lives in the United Kingdom.

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