Saudi princes lose fight to keep UK lawsuit secret

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The High Court, London. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

The High Court, London. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Two Saudi princes will not be able to keep details of an international commercial dispute a secret, a British court ruled on Thursday, despite lawyers arguing that the case could damage Saudi relations with Britain and the United States.

The appeal was made by Prince Mishal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a former defence minister, and his son Prince Abdulaziz bin Mishal, who are locked in a legal business tussle with Jordanian businessman Faisal Almhairat.

The Court of Appeal in London upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court that the case should not be heard in secret.

The sides accuse each other of misappropriating the proceeds of shares, sold in 2010 and 2011, in London-registered Fi Call Ltd which they jointly owned. Few details on the company are publicly available.

Almhairat also alleges the young prince was guilty of wrongoing in what have been only been referred to as the "Beirut" and "Nairobi" transactions, while he says Prince Mishal is involved in some matters relevant to the dispute.

But if details of the deals were made public in open court, lawyers for the princes argued, Prince Abdulaziz would be "at risk of serious personal injury or death from reprisals", while diplomatic damage could also be done.

The princes, who reject the allegations against them as "scandalous and outrageous", had sought sovereign immunity from being sued as members of the Saudi king's household - Prince Mishal is one of King Abdullah's many brothers.

The Court of Appeal dismissed that argument on Wednesday.

Two newspapers, the Financial Times and the Guardian, went to court in December arguing there was no reason why a case initiated by the princes should not be heard in public according to Britain's fundamental principle of open justice.

High Court Judge Paul Morgan agreed with the newspapers in a February 13 ruling, although his judgment gave little information into what the dispute was actually about.

The princes then challenged in the Court of Appeal, but with that appeal now dismissed, documents that have previously been restricted are expected to come to light.

The case could test relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia some seven years after a corruption investigation into a huge arms deal with the kingdom was dropped because of concerns that it could harm Britain's security interests.

There was widespread criticism at the time that the real motivation for shelving the case was to protect Britain's commercial prospects in Saudi Arabia.

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