US steps in to protect secrets in Saudi spy case in Canadazaak

RIYADH: US officials intervene in a Canadian lawsuit involving a former Saudi spy master, documents show, a rare move in a complex legal battle that threatens to blow the lid on sensitive undercover work.
Saad Aljabri, a former intelligence czar in exile in Canada, is embroiled in a bitter royal feud between deposed former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) and current de facto ruler Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Aljabri, who has long been involved in covert counter-terrorism operations in Saudi America, claimed in a sensational US lawsuit last year that MBS sent an assassination squad in 2018 to kill him while he was holding two of his children.
In lawsuits in the US and Canada, a slew of Saudi companies accused Aljabri of embezzling billions while he worked on covert operations under MBN, his former patron who is in custody after being deposed as an heir apparent in a palace coup. from 2017.
The legal drama exposes the power games of the mysterious royal family.
But court documents show that Washington is also in a tricky spot as it tries to protect national security secrets without jettisoning longtime ally Aljabri, who must provide evidence of his cooperation to intelligence agencies to support his defense.
Washington could invoke the “privilege of state secrets,” which would allow it to oppose court-ordered disclosure of sensitive information in the US, legal experts say.
But the US does not have such direct influence over Canadian courts.
In a letter to Aljabri’s lawyer seen by AFP, the JusticeThe attorney urged him to “delay all filings” before an Ontario court until Sept. 30 to give Washington time to consider measures to protect its interests.
“Issues relating to foreign relations and national security in the United States require ‘delicate’ and ‘complex’ judgments,” government attorney Malcolm Ruby wrote in the June 29 letter.
While Washington had “no stance” on the matter, it was concerned about “protecting sensitive national security information,” he added.
The letter has been copied to Elizabeth Richards, a counsel for Canada’s Justice Department, “as a courtesy,” suggests the US is quietly coordinating with its Canadian counterparts.
Richards and Aljabri’s lawyers did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment. Ruby forwarded AFP’s question to the US Department of Justice, who declined to comment.
Ruby’s letter said Aljabri’s defense files automatically lead to provisions under “section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act,” forcing his lawyers to edit sensitive information.
Legal experts say this provision prevents the disclosure of sensitive information or documents without permission from the Canadian Attorney General or court order.
“Canadian courts have never seen anything like it,” said a Toronto attorney familiar with the case and wishing to remain anonymous.
“While Section 38 could temporarily prevent the release of US national security secrets, it deprives Dr. Aljabri of using evidence that is central to his defence,” the lawyer told AFP.
The lawsuits have been brought by multiple companies, including: Sakab Saudi Holding, which, according to court records, was created by MBN as part of a network of front companies to provide cover for clandestine US-Saudi counter-terrorism operations.
In March, Sakab accused Aljabri of embezzling $3.47 billion while working at the Saudi interior ministry. It urged the Massachusetts court to freeze its $29 million worth of properties in Boston.
This came after multiple Saudi companies, including Sakab, sued Aljabri in Canada over similar charges. A Canadian court then announced a global freeze on Aljabri’s assets.
To prove his innocence, Aljabri says the courts should investigate Sakab’s finances, including how they were used to fund programs run with the C.I.A, the US National Security Agency and the US Department of Defense.
In US court files in April, the Justice Department suggested it wanted an out-of-court settlement.
But there is no indication that the Saudi leadership is willing to acquiesce.
“Aljabri is trying to use these legal avenues because he is stuck,” a source close to the Saudi leadership told AFP.
“This is a last-ditch effort that I don’t think will work,” despite the risk of revealing secrets that “will embarrass the US,” he added.
In a statement to AFP earlier this month, an official in Riyadh said the “Saudi government is not involved” in the lawsuits.
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch demanded the immediate release of Aljabri’s two adult children, Sarah and Omar.
They were sentenced to more than six and nine years in prison in November respectively. But HRW said the case was brought “exclusively to create leverage against their father”.
A source at Aljabri denies financial misconduct and has dismissed the allegations as “blind vendetta”.
Washington “jumps through legal hoops to protect its national security interests,” the source said, adding that the US would do better to “mediate an out-of-court resolution for this nasty royal feud that had entangled Dr Saad and his children.”

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