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Judge Orders Saudis to Pay $223 Million to Sheik's Ex-Wife

Courts: Ruling in long- running case is leveled at two members of the royal family, but also holds kingdom liable.

August 24, 2002|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a ruling that seeks to dip into the Saudi royal family's coffers, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that a sheik and his brother-in-law prince must pay $223 million to the sheik's former wife.

Unlike previous judgments in the long-running case, the ruling by Judge Alban Niles is the first to demand accountability from the Saudi kingdom. The judgment was leveled against Sheika Dena Al Fassi's ex-husband, Sheik Mohammed Al Fassi, and his brother-in-law, Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz, second in line to the throne of his brother King Fahd. The suit also includes the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Dena Al Fassi was originally awarded $81 million in 1983. Aside from proceeds from the sale of the Beverly Hills property the couple once shared, the sheika has never been able to collect on the judgment, said her attorney, Marvin Mitchelson. The ruling in Los Angeles this week takes into account two decades of accrued interest.

The attorney said he hasn't received a response from the Saudi royal family, "but I expect one."

According to Mitchelson, the tradition of the royal family is to financially support their immediate and extended family. On a daily basis, the king gives millions of dollars to members of the royal family to spend, especially his brothers, the attorney said, adding that Al Fassi directly benefits from his relationship to the royal family.

"The king says, 'I'm giving each of you money. You are to take care of your families....' That is the protocol for that country and the basis for our lawsuit," Mitchelson said. "They have billions of dollars. We expect to collect."

According to the attorney and court records, the king and Prince Turki also helped Mohammed Al Fassi "kidnap" the couple's four children shortly after the initial judgment, despite a court order granting custody to Dena Al Fassi.

She now lives in Venice, Italy. Her ex-husband lives with their four grown children in Cairo. Mitchelson said his client has seen her children only a few times since her husband left with them.

Before the couple's Beverly Hills mansion fell victim to arson in 1980--to neighbors' cries of "Burn, burn, burn!"--it was the talk of the town. They had painted the white Italianate home green, filled outdoor urns with plastic flowers and painted white plaster nudes in natural skin and hair tones.

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