Ethiopian billionaire’s daughter faces stoning in Saudi
The identity of the alleged Saudi Princess given secret asylum in the United Kingdom early last year has now been revealed. The young woman, who is in her late 20s is reported to be Sarah Mohammed Al-Amoudi, originally from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and now living in London. Sarah Al-Amoudi told British authorities that she is the daughter of Ethiopian billionaire businessman Mohammed Al-Amoudi who married her off to an elderly and disabled senior member of the Saudi royal family, a “prince,” when she was only 13 years old.
Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi, one of the world’s richest men, was born in Ethiopia to a Yemeni father and Ethiopian mother and received Saudi citizenship in the mid 1960s.
Al-Amoudi has been linked (in the press) to the financing of organizations with associations to terrorist groups. The alleged princess, herself, has stated this to numerous individuals.
Sarah Al-Amoudi also told British authorities that her father was looking for her and she feared for her life. In a disparate attempt to flee Saudi Arabia, she acquired a Yemeni passport, based on her grandfather’s place of birth and used it to flee Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed Yahya Al-Mutawakel, a senior Yemeni official and a senior member of one of Yemen’s most powerful families, confirmed Sarah Al-Amoudi acquired a Yemeni passport in early 2000 at the passport office in Aden, Yemen. The Aden passport office had major problems with corruption and the illegal issuance of Yemeni passports between 1999 and 2002.
It is also learned that Sarah Al-Amoudi’s longtime lover was one of the four Blackwater contractors famously killed in Fallujah, Iraq on March 31, 2004. After being shot to death, their bodies were mutilated, set aflame and paraded through the streets, before being hung from a bridge, while the world watched in horror. The murderers were never caught. Officially, it was blamed on Islamic militants, but according to sources close to the princess, she believes that her family in Saudi Arabia was probably responsible for the death of her lover as an act of revenge.
More by Ian Gallagher and Amanda Perthen of UK’s Daily Mail
On the surface, it resembles a fairy tale. A beautiful young princess is forced to marry a wicked old nobleman but falls in love with a handsome boy her own age, secretly bears his child, then goes into hiding – lest she falls into the clutches of her husband, who vows to execute her for adultery.
It sounds improbable, but this, in essence, was the story a Saudi princess told one winter morning last year in the unprepossessing surroundings of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal at Hatton Cross, near Heathrow Airport.
The princess, who we cannot name for legal reasons, said she was convinced that she and her daughter, whose father is British and once worked at Harrods, would be flogged or stoned to death if forced to return home to Jeddah.
Dealing on a daily basis with desperate immigrants from all corners of the globe, the tribunal has no doubt heard many a tall tale, and the woman’s testimony was nothing if not melodramatic.
Yet it was a story the judge was prepared to accept.
It is redolent of the 1980 television drama-documentary Death Of A Princess, based on the true story of the public execution of a Saudi princess and her adulterous lover, and it is easy to see how the parallels would play upon the minds of those involved in the tribunal.
The judge’s decision to grant her asylum in Britain – she had previously been turned down – only came to light in July along with some sketchy details and speculation about the implications for Anglo-Saudi relations.
Now, an investigation by The Mail on Sunday has uncovered the full story behind the princess’s extraordinary predicament and her desperate efforts to conceal the birth of her child, including an ill-conceived plot to pass off the baby as the daughter of a friend and spirit her to the United States.
Much of her story is revealed in her compelling witness statement, leaked to this newspaper.
In it, the princess says she fears she is being hunted across London by both her husband and her father, whom she names, and whose honour, she says, her actions have compromised.
She also expresses distrust of the British Government and concern that officials might betray her whereabouts.
‘I feared the Home Office would give my details to my husband and my life would be in immediate danger,’ she says in her account.
The sensitivity of the situation and its potential to cause diplomatic tension cannot be overstated.
It is worth noting that the political fallout from the screening of Death Of A Princess was devastating and resulted in a request that Britain withdraw its ambassador to Jeddah.
As the princess herself says in her statement: ‘I am aware that Saudi Arabia is an important business partner of the UK. I am also aware of the power of my husband’s family and also my father in such business dealings.
‘I was very concerned that my situation could become compromised.’
Born in Jeddah, the princess ‘had an Islamic education’ at first.
Then, in common with the children of many wealthy Saudi families, she was sent to a Western school, but taken out after only two years when it was decided she should marry a senior member of the Saudi royal family.
At the time of the wedding, she was still in her early teens, while her husband had already reached old age.
‘The marriage was arranged by my father, who is a close friend to the royal family, and my marriage was a symbol of their friendship – according to custom, I was a gift,’ she says in the statement.
‘In my previous asylum statement and interview, I declined to mention my husband’s name as I thought I had already brought too much shame to him and his family and did not wish to embarrass him, his family or my family further.
‘Moreover, I have received information from third parties that if his name is revealed in any way relating to this case, I and family members who have helped me in Saudi Arabia would be in serious danger – particularly my mother. All members of my family have been banned from talking to me, contacting me, helping me in any way.’
One of several wives, she says she was ‘used for show’ and that the marriage was ‘designed to ensure unity between my own and my husband’s family’.
She adds: ‘The marriage was never consummated and I remained a virgin. Due to his age, his medical conditions and the wishes of his other wives, my husband rarely slept in the same room as me.’
It must have been a dispiriting existence but one lifted by frequent visits to London, which she regarded as her ‘second home’.
It was on one such trip, while shopping with her maid in Harrods, that she met the man who would father her daughter.
‘He approached me and we chatted for some time before he asked for my phone number,’ she recalls in her statement. ‘He was a good-looking man (I did not hesitate to give him my number). He wished to keep in touch with me.
‘At that time, my bodyguard and driver were waiting for me outside Harrods. As there are strict restrictions in Muslim and Saudi culture, it was common at that time [and still is] for couples to meet in shopping centres and to exchange numbers in this manner.’
They developed a phone relationship – ‘we would talk as if we had known each other since childhood’ – and managed one more clandestine meeting in Harrods before the princess returned home.
No sooner was she back than she persuaded her husband that she needed to return to London for medical reasons.
He acquiesced, and her relationship with the man, a Harrods employee, then became physical, quickly resulting in her pregnancy. The situation was understandably grave. To add a further complication, as if one were needed, her lover was Jewish.
The princess recalls in her statement that she learned of her pregnancy only when she suffered morning sickness and, at first, confided in only her personal servants.
At a later stage, she confessed to her mother, now her closest ally.
To this day, she continues secretly to fund the princess’s life in London with money sent by Western Union.
‘I wanted to have an abortion so that I could continue to lead a normal life with my family, but this was not possible in Saudi Arabia,’ recalls the princess.
‘However, she was able to hide her pregnancy by wearing a loose-fitting head-to-toe abaya cloak.
‘I also wore the abaya while sleeping at night,’ she says. ‘This is common practice for Saudi women.
‘As my husband and I never slept together, it was easy to hide my growing body from him. In addition, my bump was very small and I didn’t gain much excess weight.’
As the pregnancy neared full-term, the princess convinced her husband once again that she needed to visit Britain for medical reasons.
It was during this stay that she gave birth to her child in a London hospital.
Any elation she experienced at holding her daughter for the first time was quickly overtaken by panic and confusion.
At the time, she felt she had little choice but to give up the baby for adoption. Before anything could be resolved, she had to fly back to Saudi Arabia. She left the baby with a female friend.
‘However, once I returned, I realised that my husband had suspicions about me,’ she says. Fearing for her life, she boarded a plane to London and has never been back to Jeddah since. She says that ‘my main priority was to find a safe place for my daughter and to ensure that she is not the subject of harm’.
The address the princess supplied to the tribunal is an elegantly appointed basement flat in a mansion block in one of the most fashionable districts of West London. Land Registry records confirm that she bought it.
When The Mail on Sunday visited the address, we were told she no longer lived there. For a while, she rented a flat on the first floor of the same block, but she now lives in another part of London.
Last week, a former neighbour, who knows the princess’s whereabouts, recalled how she confided in him, revealing how her distress at the time of the pregnancy was compounded when she was abandoned by her lover.
‘She wanted to marry him but unfortunately he disappeared off the scene,’ says the neighbour. ‘She was left to bring up her daughter on her own.’
The neighbour was left in no doubt that her fears were genuine.
But while the Saudi Embassy in London has declined to comment publicly on the case, diplomatic sources have suggested, enigmatically, that the princess ‘may not be all she seems’.
It must also be said that, initially at least, she was denied asylum after the Home Office uncovered ‘inconsistencies’ in her story.
The Mail on Sunday has discovered that she falsified her daughter’s birth certificate, stating on it that the girl’s father was an American and that the mother was her Yemeni friend.
The address given for the couple is in a square in Bayswater, West London. A woman now living in the block says she could not recall the Yemeni woman or her American partner, but did remember the princess living there with her newborn baby, who is now aged eight.
In her statement, the princess admits she lied on the birth certificate but did so to protect her daughter. ‘In desperation, I asked my friend to take my daughter to the US with her American husband and to treat my daughter as her own,’ she says.
The scheme failed when American authorities discovered from DNA and blood samples that the supposed mother was not related to the child.
Why these samples were requested is not clear. But an immigration source familiar with the case said that at one stage both US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI became involved, and expressed concern about the Yemeni’s story.
US records reveal that her wedding to an American from Cleveland, Ohio, took place at a mosque in Las Vegas – two weeks after the princess’s baby was born.
The man’s family explained that he served in the elite Special Forces, America’s equivalent of the SAS, before becoming a private security consultant in Iraq.
In April 2004, he died at the age of 32 when his convoy was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and set ablaze in a notorious atrocity in which three other Americans were also killed.
A frenzied mob dragged their bodies through the streets of Fallujah and hanged two of them from a bridge.
Curiously, his mother told us she had never heard of the Yemeni woman and was mystified when told of a wedding certificate bearing their names.
‘My son wasn’t married. I would have known if he’d had a wife. I was in touch with him every other day,’ she says.
‘He died a single man and as a man of the Catholic faith. He would never have gotten married in a mosque. Someone must have stolen his identity.’
The Mail on Sunday tried to locate the princess’s Yemeni friend but could find no trace of her in the UK or the US.
Following the wedding, there was just one mention of her in public records, when she listed her address as a rented flat in a building in a rundown area of New York.
The flat is now occupied by an Indian couple who do not speak English. No one else in the building recognised her name last week.
Despite the unresolved questions about her account, however, the princess was granted asylum after she testified that she lied to protect herself and her daughter.
‘This is the main reason why I did not include my name on my daughter’s birth certificate. It would give a clear link to where I am living,’ she says.
‘Since coming to the UK, I have not left the country and have had to persevere with my emotional stresses, most importantly, worrying about what will happen to my daughter and me.’
Echo: A scene from 1980 drama documentary Death of a Princess
And she admits: ‘I had been used to a very high standard of living in which almost every part of my life was managed by others.
‘It was a great shock to adjust to managing my own life and being responsible for my daughter. It has been a very lonely period of readjustment, particularly in the knowledge of the stress I have caused to my family in Saudi Arabia.’
She says she is supported by her mother who is ‘sympathetic to my problem. My father is a very strict man and hence my mother always fears his actions.
‘If I return to Saudi Arabia, my daughter and I will be subject to capital punishment under sharia law.
‘In addition, my husband or my father will definitely make sure that we receive the full sharia law punishment, which will include flogging and stoning to death, execution or some other form of honour killing.
‘This is my greatest worry and the cause of my depression.
‘I realise that I have made a mistake but the punishment is so severe and inevitable that I have had no option but to hide in the UK.’