Friday, September 17, 2021

United States mobilizes to protect secrets in case of Saudi espionage in Canada

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RIYADH: US officials are intervening in a Canadian lawsuit involving a former Saudi spymaster, documents show, a rare move in a complex legal battle that threatens to blow up delicate undercover work.
Saad Aljabri, a former intelligence czar in exile in Canada, is embroiled in a bitter royal feud between ousted former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) and the current de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Aljabri, long associated with covert counterterrorism operations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, claimed last year in a sensational American lawsuit that in 2018 MBS sent a death squad to assassinate him while detaining two of his sons.
In lawsuits in the US and Canada, a host of Saudi-owned companies accused Aljabri of embezzling billions while working undercover operations under MBN, his former employer who is in custody after being deposed as heir to the throne. in a palace coup in 2017.
The legal drama exposes the power games of the secret royal family.
But court documents show that Washington is also in a bind, as it seeks to protect national security secrets without ditching its longtime ally Aljabri, who needs to present evidence of its intelligence collaboration to shore up its defense.
Washington could invoke the “state secrets privilege,” which would allow it to resist the disclosure of sensitive information ordered by a court in the United States, legal experts say.
But the United States does not have such a direct influence on Canadian courts.
In a letter to Aljabri’s lawyer seen by AFP, the attorney for the justice department urged him to “postpone all presentations” before an Ontario court until September 30 so that Washington has time to consider measures to protect its interests.
“Issues related to US foreign relations and national security require ‘delicate’ and ‘complex’ trials,” wrote government attorney Malcolm Ruby in the letter dated June 29.
While Washington “did not have a position” on the case, it was concerned about “the protection of confidential national security information,” he added.
The letter was copied to Elizabeth Richards, an attorney for the Canadian Department of Justice, “as a courtesy,” suggesting that the United States is discreetly coordinating with its Canadian counterparts.
Richards and Aljabri’s lawyer did not respond to AFP requests for comment. Ruby redirected the AFP inquiry to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
Ruby’s letter said that Aljabri’s defense submissions will automatically trigger the provisions of “section 38 of the Canadian Evidence Act,” forcing his attorneys to redact confidential information.
Legal experts say this provision prevents the disclosure of confidential information or documents without the consent of the Attorney General of Canada or a court order.
“Canadian courts have never seen anything like this,” said a Toronto attorney familiar with the case, who asked to remain anonymous.
“While Section 38 could temporarily prevent the disclosure of US national security secrets, it deprives Dr. Aljabri of using essential evidence for his defense,” the lawyer told AFP.
The lawsuits are from multiple companies, including Sakab Saudi Holding, which according to court documents was established by MBN as part of a network of front companies to provide cover for clandestine counterterrorism operations between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
In March, Sakab accused Aljabri of embezzling $ 3.47 billion while working at the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry. He urged the Massachusetts court to freeze his Boston real estate assets worth $ 29 million.
This came after several Saudi-owned companies, including Sakab, sued Aljabri in Canada over similar allegations. Subsequently, a Canadian court announced a worldwide freeze on Aljabri’s assets.
To prove his innocence, Aljabri says the courts would have to investigate Sakab’s finances, including how they were used to fund programs run with the CIA, the US National Security Agency and the US Department of Defense. USA
In US court filings in April, the Justice Department suggested it was interested in an out-of-court settlement.
But there is no indication that the Saudi leadership is willing to compromise.
“Aljabri is trying to use these legal avenues because it is stalled,” a source close to the Saudi leadership told AFP.
“This is a last-ditch effort that I don’t think will work” despite the risk of exposing secrets that “will embarrass the United States,” he added.
In a statement to AFP earlier this month, an official in Riyadh said “the Saudi government is not involved” in the lawsuits.
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch demanded the immediate release of Aljabri’s two adult children, Sarah and Omar.
They were sentenced in November, respectively, to more than six and nine years in prison. But HRW said the case was brought “solely to create influence against his father.”
Denying any financial wrongdoing, an Aljabri source has dismissed the accusations as “blind revenge.”
Washington is “jumping over the legal hurdles to protect its national security interests,” the source said, adding that the United States would do better “to negotiate an out-of-court resolution to this nasty royal dispute that entangled Dr. Saad and his children.”
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