TORONTO — A former top intelligence agent who alleges Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler sent a hit squad to Canada to kill him urged a court on Friday to free up his assets, saying the judge who froze them wasn't given all the relevant facts.
In submissions before Ontario Superior Court, lawyers for Saad Aljabri argued the alleged assassination plot and other key facts should have been disclosed at a secret hearing last month.
“They simply repeated their own side of the story,” lawyer Paul Le Vay told Justice Cory Gilmore. "They did not disclose material facts and available defences. This abject and deliberate failure matters greatly."
A group of Saudi companies, which allege Aljabri embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars before fleeing the kingdom, obtained an injunction in Superior Court on Jan. 22 that froze his assets worldwide. The hearing was done without notice to Aljabri, who therefore had no way of giving his side of the story.
In court on Friday, his lawyers argued the plaintiffs failed to reveal that Saudi Arabia set up the plaintiff companies for counterterrorism purposes, and that they are now controlled by Mohammed bin Salman, who took power in a palace coup in May 2017.
"Bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, controls this litigation and does so for an ulterior purpose," Le Vay said.
The lawyers told Gilmore that Aljabri, who spent decades in Saudi intelligence and now lives in Toronto, has filed suit in the U.S. in which he alleges a long-standing and ongoing bin Salman plot to kill him.
Part of the animosity, Aljabri argues, is because he pointed the finger at bin Salman as the mastermind behind the dismemberment and killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in 2018.
“Bin Salman considers Saad a "significant threat" because of the former spy's close ties with U.S. intelligence and the "highly sensitive information" he has, his lawyers said.
Saudi authorities have disappeared two of his children as part of the campaign, court heard.
For their part, the companies maintain this is simply a massive and meticulous fraud case 11 years in the making, and that Aljabri's U.S. lawsuit is a “public relations campaign.”
Munaf Mohamed, lawyer for the 11 plaintiff companies, said he stood by the information he provided the judge on Jan. 22. Aljabri, he said, is no "modern-day James Bond" and has offered no substantive defence.
Instead, the lawyer said, Aljabri's claims read like a spy novel infused with political rhetoric that aims to "vilify the current crown prince" but entirely ignore his own crimes. Ultimately, he said, It makes no difference whether bin Salman is driving the court fight as Aljabri alleges.
"The fact that the current crown prince is a terrible fellow or a great fellow, whether you like him or dislike him, is irrelevant to the legal issues of whether these corporate plaintiffs can sue Mr. Aljabri as a resident here for amounts that he has stolen from them," Mohamed said.
But Aljabri's lawyers said the plaintiffs failed to disclose how bin Salman had threatened their client. Nor did they let on that Interpol had rescinded a "red notice" for Aljabri issued at Saudi Arabia's request on the basis that it was "politically motivated."
“None of this was brought to your attention,” Le Vay told Gilmore.
Aljabri says he fears for his life at the hands of bin Salman and has been under RCMP protection. The October 2018 plot against him failed because Canadian border officials intercepted a bin Salman hit squad, Aljabri alleges in his unproven American lawsuit.
“The plaintiffs provide no explanation of what the U.S. litigation is about,” Le Vay said. "It is a story vastly different from how he is portrayed by (them)."
The Saudi Arabian embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.
Gilmore extended Aljabri's asset freeze until she decides whether the injunction should stand, likely next week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press