Saudi Princes Lose Bid for Immunity in U.K. Share Dispute

Two Saudi Arabian princes lost an attempt to use sovereign immunity to keep private details of their dispute in the U.K. with a Jordanian businessmen over a jointly controlled company.

Neither Prince Abdulaziz bin Mishal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud or his father Prince Mishal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud “can properly be regarded as members of King Abdullah’s family forming part of his household,” Judge Geoffrey Vos in London said, referring to the Saudi monarch in his ruling refusing to grant the request.

Sovereign immunity prevents heads of state or monarchs from being directly prosecuted in civil and criminal proceedings.

The dispute pits Global Torch Ltd., a British Virgin Islands incorporated company in which Prince Abdulaziz has a 50 percent stake, against Apex Global Management Ltd. Apex is run by a Jordanian businessman and incorporated in the Seychelles.

Global Torch and Apex, principal shareholders of U.K.-based Fi Call Ltd., accused each other of misconduct, wrongdoing and misappropriation of funds in connection to four separate sales of company shares, according to a prior London court ruling.

British courts are increasingly being used by wealthy foreigners to adjudicate their global disputes, being seen as a fairer forum to air grievances than their home countries. In August, Boris Berezovsky, who fled Russia and now lives in exile in the U.K., lost one of the largest civil suits ever heard in Britain to Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club.

‘Flatly Inconsistent’

In the judgment handed down in February, the Saudi princes lost an application to have parts of the trial held in private to prevent what they called “scandalous and outrageous,” allegations being made against them from becoming public.

The princes’ evidence “evolved” through the immunity hearing, Vos said in his written ruling. Prince Mishal’s story “changed significantly” and was “flatly inconsistent,” with the way he “originally put his case.”

Apex has “always had the utmost confidence in, and respect for, the integrity of the English judicial system,” Steven Morris, a lawyer representing the company, said in an e-mailed statement. “That confidence has been vindicated.”

Vos granted the princes permission to appeal his ruling today.

Anna Ward, a spokeswoman for Clifford Chance LLP, the princes’ lawyers, declined to immediately comment.

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