Billionaire Saudi prince loses UK court battle over Gaddafi jet

LONDON Wed Jul 31, 2013 9:53am EDT

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal leaves the High Court in London July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal leaves the High Court in London July 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Hall

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LONDON (Reuters) - A billionaire Saudi prince was ordered by a British court on Wednesday to pay a $10-million commission linked to the sale of a private jet to Libya's Colonel Gaddafi, in a humiliating legal defeat for one of the world's richest men.

The High Court judgment was scathing about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who testified in person for two days at the trial earlier this month.

Judge Peter Smith rejected the prince's evidence on all key points in the dispute, describing it in his written ruling as "confusing", "unreliable", "hopeless" and "pathetic".

The prince was being sued by Daad Sharab, a Jordanian businesswoman who said she was not paid any commission for brokering the sale of the jet, which was completed in 2006 for $120 million.

The prince's defense was that there was no agreement to pay a $10-million commission but rather that Sharab would be paid "at his discretion". He told the court he paid her nothing because during the protracted sale she had "moved to the Libyan camp".

The judge wrote: "At the end of the day I simply found his evidence confusing and too unreliable and Mrs. Sharab's was more credible on any dispute of fact between them."

It was clear, the ruling said, that the prince's memory of some of the details was poor and that he had "made up" evidence as he went along.

"His attempts to bolster that defect in the witness box were frankly pathetic and he demonstrated great amounts of confusion," the judge added.

In a statement, Prince Alwaleed said he would appeal against the ruling.

"Prince Alwaleed believes today's ruling is wrong and is not an accurate analysis of all of the evidence before the court," the statement said.

"COMPLETELY DEMOLISHED"

Sharab said in a statement of her own she was relieved after a stressful seven years of litigation.

"It will be extremely disappointing if the prince fails to accept the decision of this court and yet again attempts to delay payment of the agreed fee of $10 million," she said.

The prince is number 26 on the Forbes global ranking of billionaires. The U.S. magazine estimates his fortune at $20 billion while he says the figure is closer to $30 billion.

Through his Kingdom Holding Company, the prince owns large stakes in Citigroup, News Corp and Apple Inc, among other companies. He is also the owner or part-owner of luxury hotels including the Plaza in New York, the Savoy in London and the George V in Paris.

His cross-examination in court is likely to have been the most hostile public grilling of a senior Saudi royal. The judge wrote that Sharab's lawyer had "completely demolished" the prince on one of the most important points at issue.

The Airbus jet at the heart of the dispute has a history as colorful as its customized interior, which boasted a jacuzzi, a king-size bed and a throne-like leather armchair.

Gaddafi sent the plane to pick up Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi when he was freed from a Scottish jail in 2009, and it was shown off as a trophy by rebels who toppled Gaddafi in 2011 and posed for the press on its silver-colored leather sofas.

(editing by Stephen Addison)

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