Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
The Richest Man in the World
The Story of Adnan Khashoggi
Formats and Prices
Format:ebook (Digital original) $1.99 $2.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 31, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
Fiesta at “La Baraka”
“Slave of the lamp,” Aladdin said. “I am hungry. Bring me some good things to eat.”
The jinni vanished and reappeared in a twinkling, carrying upon his head a priceless tray of virgin silver which held 12 dishes of the choicest meats, together with a pair of silver goblets, two flasks of clear old wine, and bread whiter than snow.
—Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp
FOR five days, the guests had been landing at the small airport on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Brooke Shields, Sean Connery, Shirley Bassey, Philippe Junot of Monaco—four hundred guests in all, coming for the fiftieth birthday party of the richest man in the world.
Assigned full-time to the airport, Alex Sardon and his assistant whisked them into limousines or taxis to hotels in Marbella, a sun-drenched Mediterranean beach town that provides an alternative to Nice and Cannes for the very wealthy.
There, they waited for the evening of July 24, 1985—by the pool, refreshing their tans alongside topless girls from Sweden and France, or on the hotel terrace, stuffing themselves with buffet lunches of smoked Scottish salmon, chilled lobsters, grilled prawns, shrimp-filled avocados, fried squid, paella, and chocolate éclairs laced with chocolate cream.
Soon, the streets and phone system in the tiny resort became paralyzed as guests visited among themselves and called home to let everyone know they had received the most coveted invitation since the coronation of Louis XIV. Their host was Adnan Mohamed Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian middleman who had made more money more quickly than anyone in history—a man whose wealth was rivaled only by his genius at dealing with people and his obsessive need to spend.
Two months before, 1,472 newspapers ran stories saying the party would take place at a New York restaurant and would cost $750,000. Doug Henning, the magician, was to produce a cake out of thin air and float it to Khashoggi’s table.
But Robert A. Shaheen, Khashoggi’s executive assistant, decided New York could not hold four hundred guests at the best hotels on such short notice. So he chose instead Marbella, where Khashoggi has a sprawling ranch high on a hill overlooking the sea.
It’s just one of his twelve homes: Khashoggi also maintains residences in Paris, Cannes, Kenya, the Canary Islands, Madrid, Rome, Jeddah, Riyadh, Beirut, Monte Carlo, and New York.
Each of the homes is fully staffed at all times in case “AK,” as he is known to friends and associates, should drop by. Each home has a ten-foot-wide bed for him. And each has a swimming pool, even the Manhattan apartment that consists of two floors of the Olympic Tower and is valued at $25 million.
But the Marbella home, situated on five thousand rolling acres, is the biggest, with its own discotheque, bowling alley, rifle range, and dry cleaner, not to mention twenty Arabian stallions and two hundred African animals, including a puma. And the villa is only a two-minute ride on Khashoggi’s helicopter to the Nabila, one of his two yachts.
In Puerto Banus, the Marbella port where Khashoggi had a special berth built for the boat, the 282-foot Nabila is a dazzling sight. A third the size of the luxury liner United States, the boat is considered by Time-Life Books to be the “most opulent modern yacht afloat.” Borrowed by Hollywood for the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, it was designed and built in Italy and came complete with its own speedboats and helicopter at a cost of $70 million.
With chamois-leather ceilings and walls, the Nabila has the requisite swimming pool, surrounded by lounges that rise into the air for better tanning, plus a discotheque, a sauna, a fully equipped operating room, a movie theater, a helipad, a communications room for placing calls to anywhere in the world, and a forty-member crew.
Frequently, it is bedecked with stunning young women as well, their favors sometimes paid for like the Dom Pérignon champagne and beluga caviar constantly ferried to the boat by helicopter.
It is an afternoon’s preoccupation for local tourists to come down to the port and there to walk past the shops and Americanized bars, past the ice-cream stands and luxury apartments, and then to trudge along the seawall, like lemmings drawn to the sea, for a closer look at the yacht, moored handsomely broadside to the harbor.
Those who come to Marbella not knowing who owns the gleaming white yacht soon find out. They stop and ask at any sailboat that looks like its deckhands might speak their language. And so one hears in every tongue, “Whose boat?”
But tourists who get too close encounter one of ten security guards stationed around the yacht, augmented by men monitoring video cameras inside and out and boats patrolling the nearby waters—all linked by walkie-talkies. While their language may sound strange, their tense tone of voice conveys the message, so tourists stay clear of the red carpet that leads to the yacht.
Occasionally, the tourists’ vigilance is rewarded when Khashoggi rides by. While they swelter under the hot sun, he is cool in a tan suit as he sits regally behind the parted curtains in the backseat of his silver Mercedes 600 limousine.
Day and night, limousines drop chiefs of state and heads of Fortune 500 companies and movie stars at the boat, and there is the chop-chop-chop of the helicopter shuttling them to and from one of Khashoggi’s three commercial-size airplanes.
Each of the planes is fully staffed at all times with American pilots, ready to take off on less than an hour’s notice to anywhere in the world. Each plane is custom-fitted with gold-plated faucets and gold-plated seat belts, a separate bedroom for Khashoggi, and lounges that put Air Force One to shame.
Khashoggi’s latest, a $31-million DC-8, sat at the Málaga airport near Marbella, the “III” insignia of his company, Triad, visible on the tail. As long as a jumbo jet and as wide as a Boeing 727—which Khashoggi also owns—the DC-8 can cruise for fifteen hours without refueling. It has a complete kitchen, a custom-made $600,000 set of triangular chinaware with silverware trimmed in gold, and meeting rooms that look like a set from Star Wars.
Khashoggi delights in showing visitors an electronic map that displays the plane’s location as it flies over the globe.
So that Khashoggi never has to bother with luggage, the planes, as well as the homes and yachts, have a complete wardrobe of Cifonelli suits and custom-made Sulka shirts.
In the homes, on the planes, or on the yachts, Khashoggi throws parties attended by movie stars and heads of state: Farrah Fawcett, Raquel Welch, Christopher Reeve, Frank Sinatra, King Juan Carlos of Spain, King Constantine of Greece, Christie Brinkley, Morgan Fairchild, Cheryl Tiegs, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jane Seymour, Roger Moore.
But Khashoggi’s hobnobbing with the glamorous and powerful goes beyond entertaining them. In the two months preceding the birthday party, he flew to see eleven chiefs of state as part of secret Middle East peace negotiations. Then, taking along a bearded Moslem holy man for good luck, he flew to Geneva a week after the birthday party on a secret mission for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
The way others take the Eastern shuttle to Washington, he flew back to Spain the same day.
The DC-8’s log looks like someone had thrown darts at a gazetteer. Two weeks’ entries in May 1985 are not untypical. On the 20th, he flew from Jeddah to Madrid; on the 21st, from Madrid to Málaga, Spain; on the 22nd, from Málaga to London and then to Paris; on the 23rd, from Paris to Madrid and on to Cairo; on the 25th, from Cairo to Riyadh and then to Jeddah; on the 27th, from Jeddah to Nice and then to Rome; on the 28th, from Rome to Nice and then to Paris; on the 29th, from Paris to New York and then to Washington, D.C.; on the 30th, from Washington to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.
If the pace is dizzying, Khashoggi has offices in thirty-eight countries to help with arrangements. Running the entire nation-state of planes, yachts, and homes, and overseeing Khashoggi’s other affairs, is Shaheen, his executive assistant and right-hand man for twenty-five years. An American of Syrian descent, he has a high forehead and could pass for a college professor. Even when boarding the Nabila from one of its tenders, he always manages to wear a white starched shirt and expensive suit pressed as perfectly as Plexiglas.
Just before the birthday party, he checked into a two-bedroom suite at the Puente Romano Hotel. With Regine’s nightclub on a lower level and cannas, roses, and lavender all around, the Spanish-style hotel is Marbella’s poshest, its swimming pools tucked into a village of connecting white stucco buildings with clay tile roofs.
When he wasn’t reading messages to Khashoggi while his boss jumped on a trampoline, Shaheen was sitting on a white wicker sofa on the white marble floor of his suite at the hotel, a white telephone receiver sprouting from his ear. The hotel operators knew his suite number, L-31, by heart. They had to stack calls from all over the world until he was ready to take them.
“You’re a star,” Shaheen, dressed tropical in white shirt and white pants, was telling a disappointed man who had not been invited to the party. “The chief loves you.”
Shaheen always called his boss “the chief.”
Then a call came in from an Arab associate in the United States. He had a proposal for an $800-million project.
“Send me the papers,” Shaheen said as the man caught his breath.
“Goofs!” Shaheen shouted at a new assistant who had sent baggage to the wrong city, then kept Shaheen waiting while a secretary got him on the line.
“I thought I could delegate responsibility to you,” he said. “Anyway,” in a softer tone of voice, “you’ll learn.”
Mohamed, Khashoggi’s oldest son, wanted to use the yacht.
“Better ask your father,” Shaheen said.
The hotel operator cut in with a call from the DC-8 flying over Germany.
“I’ll take it,” he said, reaching for another Opera Pastanesi chocolate-covered Turkish delight from the box on the hammered-copper coffee table.
As evening fell like a pink and blue powder, two-way radios in specially hired buses and limousines crackled with the dispatch: “Fiesta à ‘La Baraka.’”
As the birthday guests traveled up the twisting road toward the ancient town of Ronda, the drivers pointed out where Khashoggi’s property began. Then they drove on another five minutes. There, a sign at the blue lattice gate to the estate said “La Baraka”—French for “luck.”
A guard checked off names from a long list, then waved the guests past. A man darted from the bushes, a machine gun strapped over his shoulder. With one hundred such guards patrolling the property, similar encounters would be repeated many times during the night.
At the end of a winding road lined with pink and white oleander, the guests got out in front of the Spanish stucco ranch house. The scene they approached was Disneyesque: Khashoggi standing outside, flashbulbs going off on cameras, and a clown on stilts extending a dismembered hand on a stick in greeting. A jester was equally friendly, and knights on horseback stood in file.
Khashoggi, in white dinner jacket, had rosy cheeks and curly black hair that was thinning to baldness above his shiny forehead. He had a neatly trimmed moustache, a short neck, and a double chin. Five feet four inches tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds, he somehow managed to look robust rather than flabby. At times, he seemed to roll rather than to walk.
His most distinguishing characteristic was the eyelashes that framed his glistening brown eyes. They were long and black and very curly, like a child’s.
As each guest shook hands with him, a band of musicians in period dress struck up a tune on lutes and recorder, in keeping with a Renaissance era theme. He took in the guests with his deep gaze, a charming mysteriousness to it.
Standing beside him was Lamia, his twenty-eight-year-old Italian wife. Tall, with tan skin that set off striking blue eyes, she was so beautiful and charming that men never failed to suck in their breath when they saw her.
Closer up, she seemed almost childlike, tentative. Wearing a raspberry pink Cardin haute couture gown, she looked like a glorious bird of paradise, with large ruffles sticking out like wings at her shoulders over a sheath skirt.
While her ruby and diamond choker and earrings were stunning, what caught the eye about her costume was the illusion of gold peacock feathers sprouting from the chignon of her dark brown hair. It was a creation of her hairdresser, who formed spun gold from Lamia’s hair by coating it with a gummy substance, then spraying the “feathers” with gold.
Impelled to see what surprises awaited them, the guests entered the central hall, where they felt rather foolish. How should one react when encountering an archway made of crossed swords held aloft by fifty costumed pages? Dressed in plumed cavalier hats, lion-crested doublets, breeches, and tights, the pages were at once respectful and wry, into the fun of the situation.
Into the main lounge the guests went. A woman in a lowcut blue gown with a ruffled neckline rubbed her fingers across a glass globe that held what seemed like heat-seeking light—a fiber-optics display. The blue flashes from the pink central fire leaped up and attached themselves to the glass beneath the woman’s artfully manicured nails.
From the lounge with its low, cushiony white sofas, the guests passed through a wide-open doorway to a portico above a marble terrace. The terrace seemed to drive a wedge between two hills, and the symmetry of the view was breathtaking. Straight ahead were the Mediterranean and Gibraltar, with the shores of Morocco visible in the distance.
Just below the terrace, where the trees were individually illuminated, wild birds called to each other in the perfumed air.
As night fell, the guests munched on caviar-topped tartlets and sipped Moët & Chandon champagne, secure in the knowledge that they had achieved the pinnacle of social success and curious to know who else was in the same enviable position.
There was the crème de la crème of European society: the duchess of Seville, wearing a hat of floppy pink and turquoise feathers; Count Jaime de Mora y Aragón, scion of Spanish royalty, sporting a walking stick; Countess Gunila von Bismarck, whose sunburned face was framed with platinum hair; and Prince and Princess Von Thurn Und Taxis, among the continent’s richest aristocrats, she wearing a bejeweled collar said to be worth a cool million. And then there were Princess Bridgett of Sweden, Princess Fabiola of Belgium, Robert Mitterrand, brother of the French president, German Prince Alphonso von Hohenlohe, and Philippe Junot, former husband of Princess Caroline.
Not to mention the Archduchess Helene and Archduke Ferdinand von Habsburg, Archduchess Sophie von Habsburg, and Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe and Prince Heinrich Hanau.
On the marble terrace, Maxwell M. Rabb, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, was describing the consoles that concealed remote controls and telephones behind the beds on Khashoggi’s yacht, where he was staying with his wife, Ruth.
Helicoptered to the party from the yacht, the former New York lawyer had become reacquainted with Khashoggi a few months earlier. Both had been at a Paris wedding given for the daughter of Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Moslems and son of the late playboy Prince Aly Khan.
Describing the conveniences on the yacht, Rabb was saying, “You push a button, and it closes the curtain. You push another button, and it raises or lowers the television.”
Brooke Shields, in gold-lamé jacket, diamond necklace, black pants, and high heels, towered majestically over the crowd, with her mane of streaked hair and her million-dollar smile. Excitedly, she lined up Khashoggi and his family for snapshots, unaware of the prohibition on cameras.
Former CIA agent Miles Copeland talked about his son, Stewart, the drummer in the Police rock band. Each does his own thing, then they get together for an album and make a few million, he was saying.
Victoria Sellers, the twenty-year-old daughter of Britt Ekland and Peter Sellers, was an alluring conversation piece herself, wearing a short black lace dress with a wide expanse of sheer nothing down most of her front and back.
The guests talked, too, of their host and his fabulous wealth. Was it all real? Why does he give such spectacular parties? Is he a smart Saudi Arabian middleman or a fixer, an Arab Rockefeller or just lucky?
Before they got the answers to their questions, dinner was served at midnight. Just before the party, a third wing to the mansion had been completed; it held a great green gazebo, where the main festivities would take place. Down a flight of stairs the guests went, where thirty-five tables were arranged around a dance floor, with a stage in the front of the room. Two additional dining rooms were ready to serve dinner, one a formal setting where the duchess of Seville held court at the head of the table.
An easel at each setting displayed Khashoggi’s face smiling from the cover of Leaders magazine, which goes only to heads of state, chief executives of major international corporations, and the Pope. Inside the magazine was an interview illustrated with pictures of him with Henry A. Kissinger, Turgut Ozal, prime minister of Turkey, Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire, and Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
Now, as the champagne was poured like soda and a clown joked and leered, the guests helped themselves to a buffet with some fifty items: andouillette of bass with crayfish sauce; flaky pastry filled with scallops, crayfish, and roe au Roquefort; shrimp pâté; salad of crayfish and haricots verts; grilled bass with tarragon; salmon soufflé with basil; roast leg of veal forestière; pheasant terrine in feathers; whole lamb barbecued over wood; Middle Eastern dips; beef filet en croûte en gelée; endive; hearts of palm; and white asparagus.
On the stage, madrigal singers performed as the guests ate their fill.
“Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” they sang gently.
Finally, the dishes were cleared for dessert. There were homemade caramel, honey, chocolate, coffee, and mint ice creams; sherbets made of pineapple, kiwi, grapefruit, passion fruit, and tomato; and homemade chocolates and cakes topped with raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, fresh currants, and passion fruit.
At a central table, Khashoggi sat between Brooke Shields and Princess Taxis, of the million-dollar collar. As he smiled and talked animatedly, it was hard to tell which role he enjoyed more: host or birthday boy.
As the birthday crowd waited expectantly, an actor identified himself as Henry VIII and took his place on a throne. Called to the stage, Khashoggi was regaled with a birthday proclamation to the “world’s greatest,” complete with a greeting from Ron and Nancy Reagan.
Donning an ermine cape, he signaled Ali, his six-year-old son by Lamia, to join him. Khashoggi knelt down by the boy as he listened. Dressed in a gold jacket, Ali was an adored prince.
Then the fifty pages began marching, prancing down the steps and into the party room. Each page held fifty silvery, ellipsoidal balloons aloft, each costing $2.50 and bearing the legend “world’s greatest” on a map of the globe in blue, red, purple, green, orange, and yellow.
Soon, the three-story-high center of the room was filled with the balloons, obscuring the light. A bag previously filled with 2,500 balloons had been lodged in the ceiling. Now it was released upon the guests below. There was a hush, then pandemonium, as otherwise dignified celebrants began stomping on the 5,000 balloons, producing the sound and fury of the Fourth of July.
Cowering at a table near the center was Soraya Khashoggi, his first wife and mother of five of Khashoggi’s six children. With her flawless English complexion and a low-cut gown of royal blue studded with rhinestones, she looked like a lusty, well-endowed wench from Tom Jones.
Her $2.5-billion divorce suit against Khashoggi made sensational headlines and was billed at the time as the largest in history. Orchestrated by lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, it included charges that Khashoggi paid off American executives, provided Saudi princes with call girls, and gave a $60,000 bracelet to a daughter of then President Richard M. Nixon.
Even bigger headlines accompanied her disclosure in a London courtroom in 1979 that she had been having a torrid love affair with “Mr. X,” a prominent British politician. Later, Winston Churchill, a member of Parliament and grandson of the wartime prime minister, identified himself as “Mr. X.”
But clearly that was history; now she was very much a part of the festivities. At the table, she clutched one of her sons to her, trying to ward off the balloons popping loudly all around her.
Making an entrance on its own table borne by four waiters, the birthday cake was a work of art—literally. On top was a gold crown measuring thirty-two inches by thirty-two inches, made of sugar. It was crafted by René Neou, Khashoggi’s chief chef who formerly worked at Elysée Palace, the official residence of the French president. Neou had flown to the Louvre to study Louis XIV’s coronation crown, then returned with his plan for the cake.
The crowd joined in as Shirley Bassey, best remembered as the woman who sang “Goldfinger,” belted out, “Happy birthday, dear Adnan.” Then Dante, a British rock group, took over, followed by Sabah, an acclaimed Middle Eastern belly dancer.
The party ended at nine the following morning, when pasta was served for breakfast.
It was the birthday party to end all birthday parties.
And what does one give the richest man in the world? One of his brothers gave him a lion cub, who played with the guests. A regal gift, appropriate for an astrology buff born under the sign of Leo, it wore a collar studded with diamonds.
Over the next two weeks, there would be a party every night, either at Khashoggi’s villa or on his yacht.
On the Sunday evening following the birthday party, the tourists at the boat parted to let the limousines through, dropping off a total of fifty guests at the breakwater where the Nabila has its berth.
Out came Count Jaime de Mora y Aragón and his smiling countess, residents of Marbella, where their home is a museum, its walls covered with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French, Italian, and Spanish paintings, including Goyas and El Grecos.
The countess wore a bright red dress, while the count wore a bright red silk shirt of the same shade under his white suit, with a red scarf at his neck. Carved on the head of his walking stick was his portrait, looking like Salvador Dali, with pointy beard and wolflike face.
Walking over a red-carpeted dock planted with red geraniums, the guests entered the Nabila through doors that slid silently open to reveal on the opposite wall a replica of the black stone that forms the cornerstone of the Ka’bah, a cube-like monument in Mecca that Moslems face when they pray. The replica was a gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia when he was crown prince.
Up the stairs went the guests, to an enormous lounge and bar done in chrome and chamois leather with sofas of puffy cushions piled on cushions.
Wearing a white suit with a blue silk shirt open at the neck, Khashoggi ambled diffidently, swinging his arms slightly as if his upper body were only loosely connected to his lower. Sometimes looking lost and shy, he darted from guest to guest. He was eager for them to enjoy themselves.
Asked about the Légers on the yacht, Khashoggi grabbed a guest’s arm and pointedly counted them: one, two, three, four, five.
What about the one in his bedroom? the guest wanted to know.
“That’s a Picasso,” he said, smiling.
Lamia was dressed in a pink and aquamarine sheath, so besequined she looked like a mermaid covered with scales. As a guest approached, she displayed a charming warmth, taking the guest by the arm and leading her aside for a tête-à-tête, the way ladies walked in the garden at the turn of the century.
Argentine millionaire Carlos Perdomo and his wife, Norma Jessica, were telling how they met AK. They were sailing in the Caribbean on their boat, the Jessica, which is said to be the world’s largest privately owned sailboat, when the owner of the Nabila requested permission to come aboard.
“He wanted to see our boat?” Norma Perdomo was saying.
Permission to come aboard granted, they became friends.
On a corner of a sofa sat a blonde woman from Nottingham, England. Her husband, a packaging salesman, swore he was the most ordinary person at the party. His wife had done modeling for a Khashoggi company six years earlier.
Some of the guests got a tour of the Nabila’s five decks before dinner. There was a three-room medical clinic, staffed at all times while afloat by a medical doctor, who managed to coexist with a chiropractor in pursuit of Khashoggi’s good health; the swimming pool with its own whirlpool, surrounded by lounges the size of queen-size beds; Khashoggi’s bedroom, done in browns, with its double king-size bed; and a communications room off the bridge, where two mates watched four video screens monitoring the four movies being shown on board.
When dinner was served at midnight, the guests helped themselves to three buffets—French, Italian, and Middle Eastern—while a trio of Spanish musicians visited each table. A Lebanese man joined in the singing in Spanish, one of eight languages in which he is fluent.
Then there was dancing in the disco, presided over by an Italian disc jockey. Overhead in the ceiling, portraits of Khashoggi’s smiling face and that of Nabila, his saucy twenty-three-year-old daughter, alternately lit up over the dance floor. Lights throbbed yellow, red, green, and blue in time with the music and reflected in mirrored channels down the walls.
“Celebrate!” Lamia sang along, her arms high above her head, her body undulating with Madonna’s voice. “It would be so nice if we took a holiday.…”
The trappings of power—the parties, the yachts, the planes, and the homes—are the patina that great wealth gives, the shimmering glow of mist rising from a lake. They give no hint of what lies beneath the surface, nor of what obsessions drove this gleaming-eyed financial giant to acquire wealth of colossal proportions and to spend it at the rate of more than $300,000 a day, every day of the year.
Estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion, Khashoggi’s wealth dwarfs the fortunes of America’s richest men. In total assets, Khashoggi has surpassed the eccentric and elusive Howard R. Hughes, who had a mere $1.5 billion.
Khashoggi’s real estate developments in Salt Lake City alone—Triad Center and Triad International Center—are worth well over $1 billion. In Gabon, he is developing a stretch of land as big as the state of Delaware. In Houston, he is building a $1-billion real estate development with a thousand-room hotel and 2 million square feet of office space. In Pennsylvania, he plans to turn garbage into electricity.
In Turkey, he has started a $100-million joint venture with the Turkish government to develop tourism. In Indonesia, he operates a tanker business for transporting oil. In Brazil, he owns meat-packing facilities and has started a joint shipping venture to export meat and wheat to Saudi Arabia.
- On Sale
- Oct 31, 2017
- Page Count
- 274 pages
- Grand Central Publishing