The prince and his manservant

Saudi royalty meets the British justice system in a bloody case of murder at a five-star London hotel
The prince and his manservant
Evidence included video footage of Abdulaziz attacked in the hotel’s elevators |Metropolitan Police/Press Association Images

Last week at the Old Bailey courthouse, a prince was jailed for life.

Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud, 34-year-old grandson to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a member of one of the richest and most powerful families in the world, was convicted of murdering his manservant in what Crown prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw described as “a really terrible, a really brutal attack.” It took place last February, when Bandar Abdulaziz, 32, was found beaten and strangled to death in a room at the five-star Landmark hotel in the upscale central London district of Marylebone. At the time, Saud co-operated fully with police, appearing “shocked and upset” at the death of his companion who, testimony revealed, often slept on the floor at the foot of his bed like a faithful dog. But during the October trial, a different story emerged.

The prince was revealed as a decadent playboy involved in a sadistic sexual relationship with Abdulaziz, a poor orphan—one so psychologically oppressed he did not even put up a fight to save his own life. While a post-mortem revealed Abdulaziz died with chipped teeth, split lips, a fractured rib and severe injuries to his head and internal organs, the prince had not a mark on him. The victim also had strange bite marks on both cheeks, which the prosecution argued were proof (in addition to sexually explicit photos of Abdulaziz on the prince’s phone) that the abuse had “an obvious sexual connotation.”

According to Saudi political affairs expert Ali Al-Ahmed, director for the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, the relationship was not unusual. “The victim was of very low status—black, an orphan, born out of wedlock and adopted by the royal family, but effectively a piece of property,” he said in an interview. “People would see two such people together and refer to him as a slave. It’s an open secret.”

While no news about the case appeared in the Saudi media, Ahmed says millions of Saudis followed the trial online. He describes the guilty verdict as “a victory for the Saudi people,” and says response to the outcome was “overwhelming support” because, “in my country, such people are above the law.” He says he wasn’t surprised Abdulaziz did not fight back. “He was afraid, as all Saudis are. This is how the Gulf ruling family treats their people—it beats them down.”

During their several week stay in London, Saud and Abdulaziz dined at Nobu on Berkeley Street and at Scalini’s at Knightsbridge, where a staff member testified he saw Abdulaziz badly beaten, wearing sunglasses, and struggling to eat his food. On Valentine’s Day, the night of the murder, they drank champagne and cocktails at the hotel bar before retiring upstairs.

In his initial statement to police, the prince claimed he awoke in the room he shared with Abdulaziz and was unable to rouse his friend. He said Abdulaziz’s injuries had been sustained three weeks earlier when he was mugged. But that story was disproved by CCTV footage. It showed the Saudi royal viciously attacking Abdulaziz in the hotel elevators on two separate occasions during their stay, as well as kicking him outside the restaurant where they dined on the night of his death.

Abdulaziz’s injuries showed he had been the victim of prolonged abuse, rather than a single attack. “Beneath the surface this was a deeply abusive relationship which the defendant exploited for sadistic reasons, for his own personal gratification,” Laidlaw told the court.

The prince claimed—unsuccessfully—diplomatic immunity at the time of his arrest. He also denied he was in a sexual relationship with Abdulaziz. Before the trial, he admitted to causing the victim’s death, but asked—again unsuccessfully—that his charge be that of manslaughter. The defence also attempted to suppress evidence of a sexual nature, on the grounds it could put the prince in danger should he ever return home to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is a capital offence.

In the end, the motion was denied and the court heard testimony from Pablo Silva, a Brazilian escort who had been hired to perform an erotic massage on the prince. Another escort, Louis Szikora, described his former client as a dashing cross between Omar Sharif and Nigel Havers. And Dobromir Dimitrov, a gay porter at the Landmark, said he assumed the pair were a couple after noticing their clothing was meticulously colour coded in the wardrobe. “I do not think heterosexual men would have given such importance to hanging their pants,” he said.

In addressing the convicted royal, the judge said, “It is very unusual for a prince to be in the dock on a murder charge. But your trial has proceeded in just the same way as anyone else’s would in this court. No one in this country is above the law.” The judge then sentenced Saud to a minimum 20-year jail term. British tabloids decried the fact that, after his time is served, the prince may choose to seek political asylum because he has been exposed as a homosexual—and could be executed should he return home. But the reaction among many Saudis was jubilant. “My friends were poking fun and saying the infidels have delivered us justice,” says Ahmed. “Because if this had happened in Saudi Arabia there would have been no day in court.”

The defendant’s father, Prince Abdulaziz, a nephew of the king, attended the trial, sitting grimly through the proceedings. Like his son in the prisoner’s dock, he showed little emotion.