Former Saudi spy chief denies he stole billions before fleeing to Toronto
Saad Aljabri alleges he was targeted for assassination in Canada by a hit squad
A former Saudi spymaster, now living in exile in Toronto, says a lawsuit alleging he embezzled billions of dollars is part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation by Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has issued an order freezing Saad Aljabri's assets, luxury properties, and bank accounts in Europe, Malta, the British Virgin Islands, the United States and Canada — including his $13-million mansion in Toronto.
But in court documents filed Tuesday, Aljabri contends the case is a "politically motivated attack."
"This proceeding is the latest stage of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman's ongoing efforts to achieve absolute power in Saudi Arabia, masquerading as a commercial dispute in Canada."
Companies tied to the current Saudi regime filed the lawsuit in Toronto on Jan. 22. It alleges Aljabri funnelled security and counterterrorism funds from Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry to himself, his family and associates.
"Although the investigation is ongoing, it is clear that from at least 2008 to 2017, Aljabri masterminded and oversaw a conspiracy incorporating at least 21 conspirators across at least 13 jurisdictions to misappropriate at least [$4.3 billion] from the plaintiffs," the lawsuit states.
Power shift in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has undergone a major powershift since 2017. That year, King Salman removed his nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) and replaced him with his son Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). MBN was placed under house arrest, accused of plotting a coup.
Western analysts say 35-year-old MBS has pushed the Kingdom towards a more aggressive foreign policy, pursuing his enemies at home and abroad with ruthlessness to cement his claim to the throne.
Aljabri, 62, was MBN's chief advisor. As Minister of State and head of security and counterterrorism, he was a key member of the regime.
He was stripped of his duties in 2015. Following the power change in 2017, he fled the country and now lives in a mansion on The Bridle Path, one of Canada's most upscale residential neighbourhoods.
Two of Aljabri's children, Omar and Sarah, 17 and 18 at the time, were detained before they could flee Saudi Arabia in June 2017 on the same day that MBN was removed. They were subsequently charged and convicted of money laundering and are now imprisoned. Aljabri has said there was no evidence to warrant their detention or charges.
Aljabri claims he is being targeted as part of a purge of loyalists from a competing branch of the royal family. As a former top intelligence official, he says he has damaging information about the inner workings of the House of Saud.
In August, Aljabri sued the Crown Prince in the U.S., alleging MBS sent a hit squad to Canada in 2018 to try to assassinate him and his family, and of holding two of his children hostage in Saudi Arabia.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Hit squad allegedly dispatched to Canada
Aljabri declined interview requests. His lawyer said he is reluctant to argue the legal case in the media but said in a statement the family is in a "deadly-serious" fight for their lives.
"Within days of the MBS regime engineering the gruesome, cold blooded murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, a team of assassins connected to the MBS regime attempted to enter Canada through Ottawa," lawyer Paul Le Vay wrote in an email.
"They were detected by sharp-eyed airport security officials," Le Vay wrote. "Had this hit squad gained entry, it is entirely likely that a Khashoggi-style assassination would have taken place on our soil. Every Canadian should be appalled that an autocratic regime sought to use our country as a killing ground to meet its own political ends."
Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post columnist. He was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2, 2018.
In court records, Aljabri claims the RCMP continues to investigate the alleged assassination attempt on him in Canada.
Aljabri said the RCMP has advised him his life remains under threat, recommending 24-hour physical security. A CBC reporter on Thursday spoke with a private security guard outside Aljabri's mansion from a vehicle idling on the street.
The RCMP declined to comment.
Alan Treddenick is a former senior Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officer who was stationed at the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Treddenick worked directly with Aljabri on counterterrorism.
WATCH | Threats on exiled Saudi official 'pretty real' says former CSIS officer:
"The threats against the Aljabri family and Saad himself are very real," Treddenick said, adding that Aljabri had to flee for his life.
"In my opinion, he holds the keys to Pandora's box for the current Crown Prince," Treddenick said in an interview with CBC News. "Any secrets they have, business dealings, security issues — it is information I'm sure the current Crown Prince wouldn't want in public."
'Overwhelming evidence of fraud:' Judge
On Jan. 22, Canadian lawyers for a conglomerate of 10 state-owned Saudi companies convinced a Toronto judge in an ex-parte, or private, hearing to freeze Aljabri's world-wide assets.
The freezing order application was underpinned by a 156-page forensic audit by Deloitte, two lengthy sworn affidavits, and nearly 7,000 pages of documents.
The companies argued Aljabri received unauthorized payments he was prohibited from receiving as a government employee. They allege he set up companies, ostensibly to combat terrorism, but instead funnelled money through them to himself, his family and associates.
The plaintiffs allege the auditors uncovered 26 properties in Saudi Arabia, many of which were allegedly gifted to Aljabri's children, nine luxury properties in the U.S. and others in Geneva and Vienna. The auditors also found two homes in Canada purchased with cash: The Bridle Path house for $13 million and another purchased by Aljabri's son, Khalid, for nearly $4.5 million.
Aljabri's lawyers filed a motion to immediately lift the freezing order, arguing that the plaintiffs misled the court.
On Monday, Superior Court of Ontario Justice Cory Gilmore denied the request. She ruled there was sufficient plausible, but unproven evidence to meet the basic legal threshold for the asset freezing order. She extended the order to Feb. 19 for another full hearing.
"There is overwhelming evidence of fraud that has been presented to court," Gilmore wrote. "In response, I have an affidavit from [Aljabri's] son, which is more of a political treatise than any concrete response to the serious allegations raised."
The affidavit by Khalid Aljabri contained many of the same allegations, including intimidation and death threats, advanced by Aljabri in his U.S. lawsuit and in his pleadings to the Ontario court.
"The Deloitte report and the affidavits and exhibits filed demonstrate that Aljabri used fraudulent means to divert funds that rightfully belonged to the plaintiffs and the Plaintiffs suffered a loss from that conduct," Gilmore wrote.