Is Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman hiding his mother from the king?
Embassy says King Salman believes his third wife is receiving medical treatment overseas, but NBC reports her powerful son may have her under house arrest in a Saudi palace
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has garnered international intrigue in the months since manoeuvring to become next in line for the throne.
Part of that plan was seemingly to hide his mother away from his father, the king – fearing she would block his power grab last June.
The crown prince has kept his mother’s whereabouts a secret from King Salman for more than two years, NBC News reported Thursday.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington denied the report, which added the king was told his third wife, Princess Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan, was often away for medical treatment.
The crown prince has carved out a unique reputation over the last year, as a reformer with questionable methods – who also loves art.
Mohammed bin Salman came to power last June at 31, after serving as deputy crown prince and Defence Minister.
But he persuaded his father, now 82, to drop his cousin, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, as crown prince in favour of him.
Mohammed bin Salman has been credited with reforms such as allowing women the right to drive, and branching out to Silicon Valley.
US President Donald Trump has applauded the work Mohammed bin Salman has done on behalf of his octogenarian father. He will also host him at the White House on Tuesday.
Trump backed Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts in November to go after corrupt Saudi officials – including members of the royal family.
“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” Trump tweeted in November.
“Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”
The corruption round-up yielded the arrests of dozens of princes and other officials.
Several were freed after settling with the government, NBC News reported.
Princess Fahda hasn’t seen the head of state in about two years, NBC News reported.
The king has told people he misses her, believing she’s often out of Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.
He mentioned to US president Barack Obama in 2015 that he hoped to see his wife during his visit to the US, the network reported, but Obama didn’t mention she was in the country.
NBC said that chatter heard by the US caught Mohammed bin Salman discussing efforts to separate his parents without his father’s knowledge, and Princess Fahda is reportedly often under house arrest at a Saudi Arabian palace.
The rift started within the last few years, one source told NBC News, as Mohammed bin Salman was worried one of his siblings could make a power play.
Saudi officials denied the account, at one point telling the network, “The story is absolutely false and highly offensive.”
But power and family strife aren’t the only things on the prince’s mind.
Intelligence sources told The Wall Street Journal in early December that the crown prince was behind the record-shattering US$450.3 million purchase of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Jesus Christ.
Mystery had surrounded who had bought the 500-year-old “Salvator Mundi” painting when it went up for auction in London a month earlier.
Mohammed bin Salman reportedly used a proxy to buy the painting, which was set to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
This wasn’t the first high-profile transaction the crown prince has made.
While he was vacationing in the south of France three years ago, the prince spotted the Serene – one of the world’s largest yachts – and decided to buy it on the spot.
The New York Times previously reported he paid Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler US$550 million for the ship – and had him move out that day.