Saudi crown prince’s Misk Foundation under review amid espionage scandals: Report

A participant walks next to a picture of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on November 14, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s flagship “charity” foundation is said to be under review in the kingdom after it was mired in a series of scandals, including involvement in espionage activities on US soil.

Citing a Saudi official, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that the review was ordered by the Riyadh government after the US Justice Department appeared to refer to the Misk Foundation and one of its senior officials in a lawsuit in November against two former Twitter employees and a third man.

The trio was accused of spying on users of the social media platform on behalf of the Riyadh regime.

The organization and its former secretary general Bader al-Askar were also named as defendants alongside bin Salman in another suit filed in the US in August by Saad la-Jabri, an ex-Saudi intelligence official living in exile.

“It [the allegations in the lawsuits] has brought scrutiny to something that has done phenomenal things,” said the Saudi official, who requested anonymity. “I’m pretty sure the crown prince was furious that this jewel was linked to this.”

Bin Salman founded the Misk Foundation in 2011, years before he was appointed heir to the Saudi throne.

The foundation has been a crucial tool in the crown prince’s efforts to promote his brand overseas and sign partnerships with international entities, including the UN, the Gates Foundation, Bloomberg, Harvard University and General Electric.

However, Misk’s affiliation to bin Salman caused both the Gates Foundation and Harvard to cut their ties with the organization in the wake of the state-sponsored killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The US Justice Department’s lawsuit referred to “Foreign Official-1” who was secretary general of “Organization No 1” founded by a Saudi royal. The description matches Askar and Misk, respectively. 

The filing said the defendants accused of spying for Riyadh in 2014 and 2015 had interactions with Foreign Official-1, and that he provided them with “gifts, cash payments and promises of future employment in exchange for non-public information about Twitter users.”

Meanwhile, Jabri’s lawsuit also said bin Salman had sent a hit squad to Canada to assassinate him less than two weeks after Khashoggi’s murder.

The Misk Foundation conspired with Askar and the crown prince to “covertly recruit individuals to serve as agents and who participated in the hunt” for Jabri in the US, the suit read, adding that the “campaign” offered employment at the organization as a “reward” for those who aided bin Salman and Askar.

It also quoted a person close to the Jabri family as saying that in September 2017, Misk employees repeatedly asked one of his sons and his friends for contact details for the ex-Saudi intelligence official and his wife, as well as about his residency status in the US.

Around that time, the lawsuit asserted, bin Salman and his aides sent threatening messages to Jabri, who had left the kingdom in May 2017, trying to force him to return.

Back in June, Saudi activists had raised questions about Askar’s whereabouts as his social media accounts had fallen quiet.

Soon afterwards, activity on his Twitter account resumed, but sources told the Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal that the former Misk secretary general had been detained.

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