Saudi prince’s libel fight costs $2.2M so far

Jane Croft

One of the world's richest men, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, has spent £1.4 million ($2.2 million) in legal fees so far fighting a libel battle with Forbes, the business magazine, the High Court in London was told on Tuesday.

The Saudi prince, who owns stakes in Citigroup and News International, has brought a libel lawsuit against Forbes, which publishes an annual billionaires list, in a case that is expected to come to trial as early as next year.

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Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud and wife Princess Amira
Oli Scarff | Getty Images

The libel case involves four articles published by Forbes last year that the prince alleges were defamatory towards him and Kingdom Holding Company, in which he is a majority shareholder.

Jonathan Caplan QC, the barrister representing the prince, told the High Court that the "central defamatory sting" in two of the articles was the allegation that the prince "systematically manipulated" the share price of Kingdom Holding Company and sought to mislead the public.

He told the court that the prince was also complaining about an allegation that Ernst & Young were replaced as auditors of Kingdom Holding in 2011 as well as a claim that the prince "expressly defaulted on a contractual payment with Airbus" over an Airbus 380 jet that it is claimed he "no longer wanted".

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He told the court that a "vanity allegation" that the prince wanted a higher ranking on the Forbes billionaires list was "a separate and distinct allegation" but is not part of the lawsuit.

Claims of share price manipulation were "a defamatory sting of a much higher order", he told the court.

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Andrew Caldecott QC, representing Forbes, alleged to the court that part of his client's case was that the prince "was desperate to be in the top 20" billionaires on the Forbes list.

He also claimed the four Forbes articles complained of had used a succession of "qualifying words" and told the court that the legal costs for his opponents had reached £1.4m already.

The case came before the High Court on Tuesday in a hearing to determine the meaning of allegedly defamatory statements. This is a preliminary legal step ahead of a libel trial that could begin as early as next year.

Mr Justice Tugendhat reserved his judgment on the issues until a later date.