Saudi Sheik Kept Low Profile on Luxury Island
INDIAN CREEK VILLAGE, Fla. (AP) _ There were no police raids on his home. His family was not accused of raising a stench by amassing rotten food. No one drew genitalia on statuary, or littered the landscape with unpaid bills.
All in all, it was a quiet stay for Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.
The prince, his family and dozens of bodyguards spent much of 1991 in the former Woolworth mansion, a 16-bedroom spread he bought for $3.2 million in 1983 and then practically abandoned shortly thereafter, say people on this exclusive island across Biscayne Bay from Miami.
″They’re very private people. We have private people and we have private people. These people are VERY private,″ explained Don Lebrun, city manager who oversees services to the island of 29 mansions and a championship golf course.
Prince Turki, fourth in line to the Saudi throne, has moved on to Cairo, said defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, who represents the sheik’s brother-in-law Mohammed al-Fassi.
″Prince Turki generally stays out of sight. He does not like to be a public figure,″ Bailey said recently.
Like it or not, Turki has been unable to avoid attention over the years:
- In 1983, the Dade County prosecutor ordered a raid on a condominium where his family lived before moving into the mansion. Eight police officers, investigating allegations that servants were being treated like slaves, claimed they were attacked by Turki’s bodyguards and his wife.
The prince sued, and the whole thing was dropped after an appeals court upheld the prince’s claim of diplomatic immunity.
- Turki left Florida soon after, but his Moroccan brothers-in-law remained behind. Mohammed and Tarek al-Fassi had mansions of their own in South Florida.
Tarek raised a stink when he abandoned his to the elements, leaving stagnant water in the pool and rotting food in the mansion. Neighbors complained and the county agreed, issuing a health citation.
- Meanwhile, his older brother arrived in Florida after outraging Beverly Hills neighbors by painting genitalia on the statues at his $4.75 million Hills mansion, later hit by arson. Mohammed was less than popular with his neighbors, who objected to his garish tastes, his rubber or non-existent checks, his adoption - and then abandonment - of 100 homeless cats.
″Before Mohammed grew up a little bit, back in the early ’80s, he certainly was an embarrassment,″ said Bailey. ″Saudis generally keep a low profile. Mohammed was having such a good time, he went the other way and frankly made a fool of himself.″
Turki wasn’t happy, but he stuck by Mohammed, Bailey said. ″He never disavowed him at all. He just said: ’No more traveling on my credit cards.‴
The Saudis tolerated al-Fassi until he made the impolitic decision to support Saddam Hussein, going on Baghdad radio to criticize Saudi rulers. Saudi authorities grabbed the renegade sheik in Jordan on Oct. 2 and have held him incommunicado in the Saudi capital since then, Bailey said.
- Prince Turki’s return to United States in 1990 also drew attention, somewhat inevitable for a man who travels with an entourage of nearly 100 people and a tractor-trailer full of luggage.
Hotel managers complained they weren’t paid for the inconveniences. Residents of Cambridge, Mass., complained that security guards ejected local children from city parks while the prince’s children played.
The problems often were eased when prince opened his considerable purse - Fortune magazine once pegged his family’s fortune at $18 billion. Turki quietly made hundreds of donations each month, including $30,000 to a disabled children’s fund after the playground spat made news.
Given this family history, Turki’s ability to spend most of a year in the United States without attracting notice is something of a triumph.
Officials at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington wouldn’t comment on the royal family. They refused to confirm Prince Turki’s whereabouts and would not detail his official duties; he has, in the past, served as defense minster.
Lebrun and others on the island also declined to comment about the sheik. His neighbors include singer Julio Iglesias, Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, golfer Ray Floyd and vacuum cleaner magnate Herbert W. Hoover Jr.
Quiet is how they like it in Indian Creek Village, where the country club owns the only street and a private police force keeps all but members and invited guests on the other side of the only bridge.
There’s hardly a more secure place to live in Florida, with one officer constantly patrolling the street and another circling the island in a boat. The village once went 16 years without a burglary.
But Prince Turki didn’t take any chances during his stay. He hired a half dozen off-duty troopers at $22 an hour to guard his property around the clock, and still has at least one trooper sit outside the nearly empty mansion in a squad car, say island police and the Florida Highway Patrol.
This and other security cost up to $8,000 a week, according to one source on the island who asked not to be identified.
FHP Lt. Sylvester Dawson said American taxpayers footed no part of the bill. He said the sheik paid troopers directly, and the troopers in turn reimbursed the patrol for any wear and tear on their cars.