A big bonus for Bandar
June 20, 2007
“Behind every great fortune there is a crime,” concluded Honore de Balzac, the French novelist. How scandalous that Balzac’s “bon mot” may now apply to Prince Bandar, whose great fortune made him one of Aspen’s most generous benefactors. How rich is Bandar? A friend of mine used to drive for the prince. I can’t mention the name for fear of a fatwa, but I was told that there were often suitcases taken off the prince’s airplanes that were literally bulging with cash. Turns out the money wasn’t from Bandar’s own piggy bank.Reportedly, the prince derived kickbacks by brokering arms deals with the British company BAE Systems. The New York Times claimed the “British military contractor paid more than $2 billion clandestinely into bank accounts in Washington that were conduits to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States.”Of course, Bandar has denied any wrong-doing. So have BAE, the British government and anybody else who ever touched those billions. But if there were any wrong-doings, you can be sure they were for the good of the civilized world, which needs all the good it can get its filthy little hands on.The BBC reported that payments of up to £120 million a year were made to two of the prince’s bank accounts, one of which reputedly paid the expenses of his private Airbus. But there was more than an Airbus on the prince’s Christmas list. There was his Aspen Starwood Palace, from which many Aspenites profited famously.This cozy, energy efficient, resource-conscious 55,000-square-foot mountain cabin (roughly the size of the White House) was a huge windfall for local builders, subcontractors and real estate agents who put on the blinders of expedience while improving East/West relations by humbly consorting with Saudi royalty … and sharing those illicit billions.”Bandar Bush,” as he was known in intimate Washington circles, was one of W’s buddies, which makes his Starwood home practically a national shrine. Never mind that the lofty fraternity to which these men belong has no rules other than success, even when success comes without scruples.What The Guardian called “Britain’s largest ever arms deal,” sold to Saudi Arabia 72 Tornado and 30 Hawk military aircraft made by BAE in partial exchange for Saudi oil at below-market prices. At the time, the sale was considered critical to BAE’s financial health.Bandar was merely trying to help out a beleaguered company and a beleaguered Great Britain, so the alleged kickbacks were fair compensation for what could be construed as altruism. Bandar himself no doubt kicked the tires of those Tornadoes and Hawks to make sure the goods were sound before accepting the cash.As the kickbacks began to fill Bandar’s coffers, he needed an investment … and what could be better than Aspen real estate? That’s when he announced plans in the mid 1980s for his Starwood super-home. And what a feeding frenzy ensued. The special interests that salivated Pavlovian-style over the jingle of the prince’s coin became legion, and when the county approved the plans, it was a halcyon day!Or was it? Sadly, the prince’s largesse seems to have derived from the trade of weapons designed to kill human beings, to tyrannize entire societies, to dominate whole cultures. Bandar’s wealth, which he liberally distributed to eager hands in Aspen, came from the culture of war, privilege and prestige, sound values upon which the civilized world is built, by God!Bandar’s Airbus, his minions handling suitcases full of cash, his stretch SUV motorcades through Aspen, his commandeering of local restaurants for his entourage, his selfless charitable contributions and his grandiose monster home now bear the ugly taint of corruption.Still, where would Aspen be without all that money, which sooner or later filters into all of our hands? Some of us can just look the other way, hoping the taint will fade with time. For others, we must wonder, our hearts atremble, if Balzac was right.Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays.