In April, BBC Two commissioned a series of documentaries focusing on Britain during the 1970s. Many consider this to be one of its bleakest decades. While most Brits froze; suffered black outs and general misery, sun-kissed Arab Sheikhs from the Gulf were popping up in London to purchase real estate and lavish goods. They set a trend that has lasted to this very day, and one name that became synonymous with the Arab über elite was Adnan Khashoggi. Throughout the seventies and eighties, his name epitomized decadence and crookedness. His parties were legendary, his female companions became celebrities in their own right and he kissed the hand of almost anyone in business. Once a mainstay in glossy magazines, Khashoggi has fallen from lofty heights, and these days his name is rarely mentioned. Many of the people who flocked to him, are now immersed in activities a world away from the glitz and ephemeral glow of high society. Who was this man who collected friends, as well as enemies with unfathomable ease?
Adnan Khashoggi was born in 1935 in the Saudi city of Mecca. His father became close with the royal family, as he was the personal physician of King Abdel Aziz al Saud. Adnan was sent to Alexandria in Egypt to be educated at Victoria College. It was a conservative institution in which one could be punished for not speaking English. His classmates included a young King Hussein of Jordan. Khashoggi then attended California State University and Stanford University, but he never completed his studies. He enjoyed living well, and dabbled in business in order to supplement his monthly student stipend of $ 200 dollars. In the end, his taste for commerce proved too great. In his early twenties, he went back to Saudi Arabia and got involved with an industry that would set him on a path to richness. In 1956, he earned a commission of $150,000 for supplying his country with three million dollars worth of trucks that were sent to Egypt, to help them in their campaign against the Israelis. In the years to come, he was responsible for brokering military hardware sales that were valued in the billions, and Khashoggi would secure sometimes 5-15% of the cost for himself. In 1970, he earned a commission of $184 million by helping the U.S.aircraft manufacture Northrop, now Northrop Grumman, sell $4.2 billion dollars worth of F-5 warplanes to Saudi Arabia. Front companies based in Switzerland and Liechtenstein handled many of his deals. Within ten years, his total worth was valued at $ 4 billion, and many were calling him the richest man in the world. He was also close to a number of political heavyweights. He supported Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign and even bought his daughter a $60,000 dollar bracelet. Khashoggi knew how to charm. In the eighties, investigative journalist Ronald Kessler wrote that Khashoggi: “has tremendous grasp of how people tick”.
There are also few tycoons who shared the same appetite for conspicuous consumption as Khashoggi. There are stories galore about his purchases. He bought twelve homes in cities such as: Paris, Cannes, Madrid, New York, and a Marbella estate situated on 5000 acres. He bought 100 limousines, a DC-8 jet, a $ 75 million dollar yacht, named after his daughter Nabila (which Donald Trump later bought), and a South Korean martial arts body-guard. At his 50th birthday party, he invited 400 guests to Marbella. Hollywood’s hottest stars of the era were there including Brooke Shields and Sean Connery, with Moët flowing by the gallon.
In regards to his personal life, in 1961, he married the attractive British woman, Sandra Daly, who converted to Islam, and later changed her name to Soraya. Still a teenager, she married Khashoggi before he earned his millions. She had five children with him. However the pair parted in 1974, and five years later, Soraya sued him for divorce for a figure of $2.54 billion. During the proceedings, Khashoggi was represented by Joseph A. Ball, who was a senior counsel to the Warren Commission. In the end, Soraya walked away with an estimated $874 million in an out-of-court settlement. In 2007, The Daily Mail discovered her working as a florist, and has since shed her glamorous appearance. She is estranged from most of her children. After Soraya, Khashoggi remarried the Italian Laura Biancolini, who also changed her name to Lamia. However his addiction to women meant that she struggled to compete.
Khashoggi, along the same lines as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, had an insatiable desire to procure beautiful young women; both for himself and for those he wanted to impress. It is reported that he used the services of a French madam called Mireille Griffon, who was ordered to provide girls between the ages of 18 to 24. She was also known on the Côte d’Azuras Madame Mimi. She groomed ladies for the elite, and Khashoggi offered ordered two or three girls at a time. This tactic often helped to seal the deal with whose business he sought. One of the most famous or perhaps infamous ladies to come into his midst was the former Indian beauty queen Pamella Bordes. She worked as a researcher in the House of Commons, and was introduced to Khashoggi through a mutual friend. She joined the band of lady lovelies at his home in Marbella, and Khashoggi once sent Bordes to Riyadh to sleep with a Saudi royal prince. Bordes would later give a tell-all interview about her experience to the UK’s Daily Mail. She now lives in Goa, working as a photographer, but prefers to be called Pamela Singh.
Controversy and tales of corruption dogged Khashoggi as his wealth grew. In the United States, officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed him twice, before he eventually agreed to speak about foreign payoffs. Khashoggi was also implicated in the Iran-Contra affair, which involved the sale of arms to Iran to secure the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon. This was in violation of an existing arms embargo. Khashoggi, or “Mr. Fix-it”, along with Manucher Ghorbanifar acted as financial intermediaries for the shipment of missiles. In 1988, his holding company in the United States, Triad America Corporation, located in Salt Lake City went bankrupt, with liabilities of reportedly $ 197.5 million and assets of only $9.5 million. Khashoggi blamed it on cash flow problems. At the same time, he was indicted on a charge of helping the ousted Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Emelda divert assets and hiding their ownership of real estate and artwork through his front companies. At the start of the nineties, Khashoggi’s name was poison in the financial world, as little by little, it soon became clear that “Mr. Fix it”, could no longer pay his bills and his creditors wanted to pounce. Due to the allegations of racketeering, the US government sought his extradition from Switzerland. He managed to avoid prosecution for serious offenses such as racketeering, and was eventually acquitted.
Today, nearing eighty, Adnan, spends his time, using his connections, working as a consultant. It is reported that he lives in both Monte Carlo and Riyadh, and is by no means a poor man. Today however a new generation of western-educated Saudis has taken over who are comfortable navigating their way in the western commercial world.
Today there is less and less talk about the former Saudi tycoon, who is the last in the line of international playboys, who never hid their penchant for the good life and their avarice. Nowadays, especially in the midst of the global economic crisis, it is not done to be a big spender. For Khashoggi, I wonder if all that wealth, all that excess means anything to him now.