Lawyers representing Saudi Arabia’s former crown prince said they were increasingly concerned about his wellbeing, alleging that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had not been allowed visits by his personal doctor and that his whereabouts remained unknown five months after he was detained.
The legal representatives, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case, told the Financial Times that his family have not been able to visit him since security forces arrested the prince, his brother, Prince Nawaf, and his uncle Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz in March.
“They don’t know where he’s being held, all the phone conversations [with the prince] are very superficial, this is quite a dire situation,” the lawyers said. “Nobody can see him. They [the princes] haven’t been officially charged.”
Both Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Ahmed were considered potential rivals to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, whose rapid rise to power shook up the traditional succession process. He succeeded Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 60, as crown prince in June 2017 and the latter was believed to have been briefly held under house arrest and stripped of all his powers.
The princes were on a retreat in the desert when they were detained in March. Prince Nawaf was released this month, according to the lawyers, but there has been no information about the other two royals.
The lawyers’ concerns about the welfare of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef have increased after one of his former close aides, Saad Aljabri, publicly accused the younger Prince Mohammed of targeting him and his family.
Mr Aljabri, who was one of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s top lieutenants when the latter was interior minister, this month filed a lawsuit in the US accusing the crown prince of sending a hit team to assassinate him in exile in Canada two years ago.
Mr Aljabri’s family have also accused Prince Mohammed of detaining two of his children — Sarah, 20 and Omar, 22 — in March and holding them incommunicado to pressure Mr Aljabri to return to the kingdom.
Shortly after the Aljabri family went public about their concerns about the whereabouts of the children, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had requested that his own bank statements be sent to him, the lawyers said. They said they fear the request may have been made under duress.
“[Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s] current circumstances — and the fact that no independent source has been able to verify his wellbeing — suggest that any instructions purporting to be coming from him should not be actioned upon, as they do not appear to have been made legitimately by [him] of his own accord,” the lawyers said.
They added that their fear was that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s wife and two daughters, who have been banned from leaving the kingdom for more than a year, could also be targeted to put pressure on the former crown prince.
Saudi authorities have not commented publicly on either the Aljabri or the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef cases. The government did not respond to a request for comment.
A person close to the royal court said Saudi authorities believe Mr Aljabri led a team at the interior ministry that allegedly misspent $11bn, an estimated $4bn-$6bn of which was apparently misappropriated and squirrelled out of the country.
The person said there were no similar corruption allegations against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who three years ago was one of the kingdom’s most powerful officials, as well as one of its highest profile figures abroad.
Mr Aljabri’s family has dismissed the corruption allegations against him as politically motivated.
Western intelligence agencies credit Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Mr Aljabri with leading the kingdom’s fight against Islamist extremists in the 2000s. Both men forged strong ties with counterparts and politicians in Washington and London.
Prince Ahmed, a half-brother of King Salman, returned to the kingdom following a brief spell abroad after the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi triggered Riyadh’s biggest diplomatic crisis in decades. Some had viewed his time overseas as a sign of his displeasure over the direction the kingdom was taking under the young crown prince’s leadership.
But when they were detained in March, neither Prince Ahmed nor Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has suffered health problems, were viewed as serious threats to Prince Mohammed’s ascension.
At the time of their arrests, people close to the royal court suggested their detentions were a further sign of Prince Mohammed’s drive to consolidate his power by sending a message to other members of the royal family that no hint of dissent would be tolerated.
The crown prince has championed a programme of social and economic reforms to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependency on oil. But his drive to modernise the conservative kingdom has been accompanied by waves of crackdowns that have targeted members of the royal family, businessmen, academics, activists, bloggers and journalists.
Initially, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s family were in regular phone contact with the former crown prince, but that has become more limited, his lawyers said, adding that they believe calls are being monitored by the authorities. His family could not be reached for comment.