April 8, 2015
In Blog News
By James Reginato
It’s an old gambit—slipping out of a hotel in the dead of night to dodge the bill. But it’s a bit tricky when you have an entourage of 60 people, a balance of more than $7 million, and a fleet of limousines and other vehicles waiting to collect you and your mountains of bags. That was the situation at 3:30 A.M. on May 31, 2012, when Princess Maha bint Mohammed bin Ahmad al-Sudairi reportedly attempted to make something of a run for it at Paris’s five-star Shangri-La Hotel, in the 16th Arrondissement, where she and her retinue had occupied 41 rooms for five months. After a tense standoff that involved calls to high-ranking diplomats and officials, she was allowed to leave, whereupon she checked into the nearby Royal Monceau, owned by Qatar, a friendly neighbor of Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps Princess Maha thought she could slip away because just three years earlier in Paris, according to press accounts, she almost succeeded in ducking out on a $20 million tab during an epic shopping spree through the boutiques of the Avenue Montaigne, the Place Vendôme, and elsewhere. When it came time to ring up her purchases, Princess Maha reportedly shunned the usual payment methods, instead having a minion hand the merchant an embossed document stating, “Payment to follow”—a very fancy I.O.U. At some point, however, the checks stopped going out. “She was a very good customer for eight years, but then simply stopped paying,” the proprietor of the lingerie store O Caprices de Lili told reporters in June 2009, when she was awaiting nearly $100,000 in payment. The owner of a leisurewear store called Key Largo claimed that he had been stiffed for almost $125,000 worth of merchandise.
Toward the end of that 2009 stay—this time at the George V—at least one of the approximately 30 vendors to whom she reportedly owed money spent days camping out in the lobby of the posh hotel in hopes of receiving payment, before filing a civil claim. In spite of those mountainous debts, her departure from the George V appears to have been unimpeded. The hotel is owned by her cousin Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (net worth: $30 billion), and, according to some reports, her debts were settled by officials from the Saudi Embassy. But her brother-in-law at the time, King Abdullah (who died on January 23), was said to be unamused by Maha’s scandalous behavior, and, on her return to Saudi Arabia, reportedly had her confined to her palace.
Maha, in her early 50s, was the third of Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s three wives. The couple—who were also cousins—were together some three decades before parting ways. They had five children, now ranging in age from 22 to 30. In 2009, Nayef (a half-brother of King Abdullah’s) had been second in line for the throne—and at times Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler as a result of the poor health of both the king and the then crown prince, Nayef’s brother Sultan. Nayef was named crown prince in October 2011 following Sultan’s death; by early 2012 he and Maha had divorced. Ailing from diabetes, he died on June 16, 2012, at age 78.