A number of prominent jailed Saudi royals and their allies have reportedly hired influential lobbyists in the US to establish links with President Donald Trump’s circle and push for an end to “political persecution” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while he is busy dealing with a coronavirus-related economic crisis in the kingdom.
According to a report published by The New York Times newspaper, allies of several jailed Saudis have contacted Washington lawyers and consultants during the past few weeks, and mounted legal, lobbying and public relations campaigns as part of efforts to end what they term as political persecution by the kingdom’s 34-year-old de facto ruler.
The report added that an unnamed former senior associate of jailed Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud signed a $2-million agreement on May 15 to retain Trump-tied lobbyist Robert Stryk to “advocate for the release” of the imprisoned member of the House of Saud.
Last month, Barry Bennett, a Republican political consultant and former senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, signed a client with affiliation to an incarcerated Saudi prince, who had been a top rival of Mohammed bin Salman, also referred to as MbS.
Moreover, representatives of detained Princess Basmah bint Saud — a 56-year-old royal family member long seen as a proponent of women’s rights and a constitutional monarchy — have inconspicuously approached lawyers and consultants in Washington and London to garner support for such an objective.
Despite Saudi crown prince’s close relationship with Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, there is growing uneasiness in the Congress plus among some Pentagon and State Department officials with him, especially in the wake of the Saudi-led bloody war on Yemen and the premeditated murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.
The reported push in Washington comes as the coronavirus outbreak and plummeting oil prices have saddled Saudi Arabia with its worst financial crisis in decades in a blow to MbS.
Allies of imprisoned Saudi dissidents and their Washington representatives hope to pressure MbS through some combination of lobbying and public relations efforts to highlight the dire situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia and possible legal action in international courts in a bid to secure their release.
The New York Times noted that filings submitted by Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act point to the fact that the firm will reach out to the United States, Britain, France as well as the European Union to push for the release of Prince Salman.
Some pundits in Washington and Riyadh have speculated that Prince Salman may have got into a bitter rivalry with MbS by meeting with Rep Adam B Schiff, a leading Trump critic and later the manager of his impeachment, in the weeks before the 2016 US presidential election.
Lebanese American businessman Ahmad Khawaja, who was charged last December with funneling more than $3.5 million in illicit campaign donations to buy access and influence in Washington, was also present during the meeting.
Prince Salman’s allies have also approached Western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, to rally support for his release.
Officials from the European Parliament have raised concerns about the detention of the Saudi prince and his father in letters to the European Commission and to Crown Prince Mohammed.
Prince Salman was among 11 princes arrested in January 2018 as part of a so-called anti-corruption campaign.
He reportedly spent about a year in the maximum security al-Ha’ir Prison, located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the Saudi capital Riyadh, before being transferred to home detention at a villa in Riyadh with his father. He was moved again this year.
Earlier this year, bin Salman launched a new campaign of arrests against royals over an alleged coup attempt to unseat him and his father King Salman, sparking yet another outcry from human rights organizations.