Having read Mr Georges Kanaan’s book Beyond Lebanon’s Peaks…, which was published in 2022, I felt it was imperative for me to write to you as there is much in this book which is completely false and untrue, and I want to set the record straight.
I see that in chapters nine and ten of this memoir, Mr Kanaan gives an account of his role as an employee of His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz and goes on to say how that employment came to an end. I wish to challenge the version of events given in Mr Kanaan’s memoirs because I consider them to be a pack of lies and, furthermore, I see it as my duty to put the record straight as regards Mr Kanaan’s dealings with Prince Khalid, and in particular the circumstances which led to his employment being terminated.
I know the background to these events because, to my great regret, I had played a major part in introducing Mr Kanaan to Prince Khalid and I was also the one to dismiss him on Prince Khalid’s instructions. I therefore wish to refute categorically Mr Kanaan’s assertions, which I firmly believe to be untrue and, indeed, defamatory. My intention is to shed light on Mr Kanaan’s true character. I consider that he is seriously lacking in integrity, and that his behaviour has been marked by deceit and, on occasions, tainted with a hint of extortion.
By way of background, I should explain that my initial introduction to Mr Kanaan came through Mr Nabil Naaman, who at that time was employed as CEO of a company which was part of my group. Mr Naaman highly recommended Mr Kanaan for the position of Business Manager for Prince Khalid. I was assured that this was because Mr Kanaan had significant experience in banking as well as excellent knowledge of Saudi Arabia. While his CV and references confirmed this, it was the strong endorsement by Mr Naaman, who had had a longstanding relationship with Mr Kanaan, that was most convincing.
The interview process for the role with Prince Khalid proceeded favourably, especially because Mr Kanaan exhibited a strong understanding of Saudi Arabia and a willingness to relocate to take up this new role. Mr Kanaan’s appointment was formalised some time in 1992, after which Mr Naaman and I took him to Saudi Arabia to introduce him to his future colleagues. In due course, a contract of employment was prepared along with a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement.
Previously, I had arranged for all the accounts of Prince Khalid’s companies to be audited by a leading accounting firm in Saudi Arabia. However, in 1994, Prince Khalid informed me that he had suspicions about Mr Kanaan based on his behaviour. I discussed this matter with Mr Namaan who assured me that there was no reason to be concerned. However, when Prince Khalid raised these suspicions with me on a second occasion, I thought it appropriate to order a forensic review of one of Prince Khalid’s personal bank accounts for which, without my knowledge or approval, Mr Kanaan had been given sole power of signature.
This review revealed that various payments from the account with a total value between $6 and $8 million could not be accounted for. When confronted, Mr Kanaan claimed these were ‘private payments and transfers’ made under verbal instructions from His Royal Highness, and he refused to provide further details. I reported this to Prince Khalid who told me that Mr Kanaan’s explanation for these payments was categorically untrue. After looking at these payments in greater detail, and with Mr Kanaan refusing to tell me even whom the beneficiary had been for these payments, I came to the conclusion that these amounts had been embezzled from the account by him.
In response, I suggested three immediate actions: a detailed confession from Mr Kanaan explaining his actions; a written apology from Mr Kanaan to His Royal Highness for betraying his trust; and the repayment of the suspected embezzled funds. I warned Mr Kanaan that, if he refused to take these actions, legal proceedings would be taken against him. Mr Kanaan reacted vehemently to this suggestion, telling me that it would not be in Prince Khalid’s interests to take such action because he claimed to possess confidential business and personal information. He made threats to embarrass Prince Khalid and damage his reputation by releasing this information if we went ahead with legal proceedings. I considered this to be a clear threat of blackmail.
I informed Prince Khalid of Mr Kanaan’s reaction and he refused to submit to any form of blackmail. He instructed me to commence legal proceedings and, if necessary, to inform the police. I went on to instruct Linklaters & Paine to start legal proceedings against Mr Kanaan.
At that time, Mr Abdul Mohsen Al Sheikh, a friend of the Saudi royal family, was told of what had happened. Mr Al Sheikh arranged to have a private meeting with Mr Kanaan at which Mr Kanaan appealed to Mr Al Sheikh and asked him not to take action that would damage his reputation. Mr Al Sheikh reported those discussions to Prince Khalid and to me, and emphasised how concerned Mr Kanaan was to protect his family and his reputation as a banker. Generously, Prince Khalid said that he was not seeking revenge and reluctantly agreed that he would withdraw his demand for legal action against Mr Kanaan, providing that the previously stated conditions were fulfilled.
With the threat of legal proceedings withdrawn, Mr Kanaan was happy to accept these conditions, although he claimed not to have sufficient personal resources to repay the $6 million immediately. It was therefore agreed that Mr Al Sheikh and I would pay this sum to Prince Khalid to bring the matter to a close. I should mention that, although Mr Al Sheikh promised to share this payment with me, I did not receive his share of the funds. I therefore paid the $6 million myself, partly because of the responsibility I felt at having been instrumental in introducing Mr Kanaan to Prince Khalid. Once this sum had been paid, we instructed the lawyers to stop any further legal proceedings.
By way of conclusion, I should add that Mr Kanaan’s malign account of Prince Khalid’s personal qualities bears no relation to the truth. In particular, chapter ten of Mr Kanaan’s memoirs is full of baseless allegations. Prince Khalid has no need of me to defend him, but anyone who knows him will recognise that he is a great military leader, a statesman, and a man of the utmost personal integrity.
Finally, I would like to thank you for your patience in reading this lengthy statement. I am sure you will agree that it was important for me to put the record straight, and not to allow Mr Kanaan’s malicious lies to go unchallenged, especially because (to my great surprise!) he now holds the important position of CEO of the prestigious Arab Bankers’ Association in London.
Yours as ever,
Wafic Rida Saïd