A valid passport with a Saudi residence, a 2016 trip to the Arabian peninsula, and a framed picture of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his Manhattan mansion have raised more questions than answers about Jeffrey Epstein’s connections to the oil-rich kingdom.
The self-proclaimed financier, who increasingly appears to have maintained his lifestyle by blackmailing the rich and powerful through sex trafficking, died in federal custody over the weekend. His cause of death on Wednesday is pending amid an ongoing investigation. The Washington Post reported that broken bones in his neck were more consistent with homicidal strangulation than a suicide by hanging.
US Attorney General William Barr, who previously recused himself from an investigation into Florida’s handling of the Epstein plea deal because he worked at the law firm representing the sex offender at the time, will now oversee the investigation into Epstein’s untimely death.
With Epstein out of the picture, prosecutors have lost a key source who could have offered up damning information on some of the biggest names in politics, academia and royalty spanning the globe.
But for Middle East observers, one of the most curious pieces to the puzzle is Epstein’s nebulous connection to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi connection
When police raided the convicted sex offender’s New York residence in July, they discovered a mysterious travel document: an Austrian passport with a Saudi Arabian residence, false name, and Epstein’s photograph.
While Epstein’s lawyers claimed he carried the document only to shield his Jewish identity from potential kidnappers or terrorists while traveling in the Middle East – and not to travel, federal investigators say he used it to enter multiple countries in the 1980s. Those included Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi embassy in Washington, DC did not respond to a query by Asia Times as to whether Epstein’s purported residence in the Kingdom was valid.
However, the passport was not the only link between the convicted sex offender and the absolute monarchy, where women were for decades banned from traveling without the permission of a male guardian. The law was changed this month.
Among the Saudi entries in Epstein’s address book – maintained by his staff, stolen by his butler, and then seized by the FBI – was Prince Salman of the ruling Saud dynasty. Two US numbers were listed: one with a Washington, DC area code, and another corresponding to northern Virginia, just outside the capital.
It is likely in reference to the current King Salman, who at the time of the butler’s tenure (2004-05) was a prince. Salman’s son, the current de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, was a teenager at the time.
However, the Saudi connection appears to have transcended generations.
In addition to the 1980s Saudi Arabia travel reported by federal prosecutors, flight records obtained by Business Insider indicate a second trip to the Arabian Peninsula on the eve of the US Presidential election in November 2016.
According to the report, Epstein’s private jet dropped off the radar in southern Jordan on November 7, just before it would have reached the border with Saudi Arabia. Two days later on November 9, it reappeared in the south of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, just across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia.
It is unclear what he would have been doing there and who he was visiting.
The Salmans were not the only branch of the ruling elite to appear in Epstein’s phonebook, which also contained the Aspen phone line of Prince Bandar – the country’s longtime envoy to Washington whose daughter now serves in the role. Also listed are Saudi businessman Amr Dabbagh and Saudi-Syrian businessman Wafic Said.
But photographs of Epstein with the rich and powerful in his Manhattan residence offer a hint as to who he was courting.
In August 2018, the New York Times columnist James B. Stewart paid Epstein a visit at the latter’s residence in Manhattan.
The writer was investigating links between the sketchy financier and Elon Musk, who had fallen afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission over a Tweet announcing he had secured funding to take Telsa private. Musk elaborated in a blog post that the money would come from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which had already obtained a near 5% stake in the company.
“Epstein knew an astonishing number of rich, famous and powerful people, and had photos to prove it. He also claimed to know a great deal about these people, some of it potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use,” said Stewart.
The columnist says Epstein made a point to show him a display of framed photographs of his noteworthy acquaintances, including Woody Allen and Bill Clinton, who have also faced allegations of sexual abuse.
“[Epstein] pointed to a full-length shot of a man in traditional Arab dress. ‘That’s MBS,’ he said,” claiming that the de facto ruler had “visited him many times” and that they “spoke often.”
The crown prince five months earlier had embarked on a grand tour of the United States, meeting with a who’s-who of the political, tech, and entertainment elite. Among them was Elon Musk.
Epstein during his meeting with Stewart predicted Tesla would deny any link to him if asked. It is unclear if this was bluster from a man who claimed he only advised billionaires, or if he indeed served as a conduit. Tesla has denied Epstein was advising Musk.
In January of this year, the Saudis hedged the bulk of their 4.9% stake in Tesla according to a Financial Times report, shielding the Kingdom from the company’s volatility.