By Bernd Debusmann Jr
The Maryland restaurant owner has been ordered to repay over $8 million to Alia Salem Al Sabah
A US restaurant owner with ties to a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family has been found guilty of defrauding her and has been ordered to pay her over $8 million, according to local media reports.
Senegalese immigrant Jean Agbodjogbe, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, was convicted late last week of concealing and misrepresenting his business relationship with Alia Salem Al Sabah, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Al Sabah, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, is the daughter of the president of Kuwait’s national guard, while her husband is Kuwait’s former minister of the interior and her uncle is a former head of state.
According to the newspaper, Agbodjogbe’s relationship with Al Sabah on a visit to Baltimore in 2014, when one of her daughters was studying at nearby Johns Hopkins University.
It was during that visit that Al Sabah visited Agbodjogbe’s restaurant, Nailah's Kitchen, and ordered $10,000 worth of food to help feed worshipers at a nearby mosque.
Following the visit, Agbodjogbe convinced Al Sabah to wire him money – several thousand dollars at a time – which he used to expand his restaurant and in a failed bid to revitalise a once-thriving local street.
Court documents showed that he spent also spent the money on various personal expenses, such as a private school for his children and a $400,000 house. During the trial, Agbodjogbe said that he thought the money was a gift that he could spend as he saw fit.
Al Sabah’s attorneys, however, argued that she sent the funds as an investment for Agbodjogbe to buy and redevelop local properties on her behalf. They added that he inflated the cost of his business dealings to get more money from Al Sabah.
Agbodjogbe’s attorney, James Sweeting III, said that “he fell into the money trap.”
“It was a honey hole, and he fell in,” he said.
The court has ordered that Agbodjogbe repay a total $7.6 million, as well as $1 million in punitive damages.
“The jury delivered a clear and unmistakable message: The Defendants lied to Ms. Al Sabah for their own financial gain,” Al Sabah’s lawyer wrote in an email quoted by the AP. “The jury found that her unfortunate reliance on defendants' web of deceptions and concealments was justified and reasonable.”