Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman was ‘an extremely troubled, angry and uncontrollable person’

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Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 33-year-old crown prince, was “an extremely troubled, angry and uncontrollable person” according to an ex-intelligence official who left the kingdom after quitting a $15bn deal with the government because of Mohammed’s behaviour.

Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 33-year-old crown prince, pictured in 2015. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP

The main example of what his former colleague had to say about the young prince on 3 May 2014, 10 months before the prince ousted his father as Saudi Arabia’s leader, came when Mohammed told him, he claims, “that he could kill King Abdullah.”

According to the account by the retired intelligence official, Mohammed said this in a room full of other princes “by accident, as he was joking around”. The retired official asked not to be named, saying: “This is how, as a father, I must react to someone who is engaging in such behaviour. I do not discuss the matter publicly.”

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King Abdullah died in January 2015. He was succeeded by his son, who like Mohammed is known as MbS. The story of Mohammed’s boasting about killing Abdullah has not been independently verified.

A royal court statement on Tuesday said Mohammed had “developed a very bad relationship with a large number of personalities” in the old administration, including a former security chief and the Saudi monarch’s nephew. The statement described him as a “psychopath”.

An adviser to Mohammed bin Salman, Turki al-Sheikh, also says in the documentary: “He was just expressing that this thinking was outlandish, that, whether they were from [current regime] or from the opposition, that coming out with an idea of dealing with extremism, dealing with terrorism is misguided.”

Prince Mohammed also “engaged in further negative and venomous comments on me for the next three months”, the former intelligence official said. When he would confront the prince, who received top level security forces and intelligence officials in his absence, they would “turn to him and say to him: ‘Tell him to shut up, or he’ll be killed’”.

The King Abdulaziz centre for international studies at King Saud University shows a photo of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. Photograph: National Archive/Getty Images

By the following year the relationship with Mohammed had changed, the former official says, because the prince appeared to take their comments on board. “I liked this young man who was capable of executing a coup,” he said. “However, he’s a psychopath.”

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Other government officials were surprised when Mohammed bin Salman appeared in 2014 to challenge the orders of Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s founder, to impose a seven-year price freeze on the kingdom’s key export of oil to ensure market stability. “I thought that he was getting carried away,” said one Saudi government official. “But he wasn’t.”

The claim that Mohammed bin Salman threatened to kill Abdullah became one of the central questions in the internal corruption crackdown announced by the prince in June 2015.

The prince’s arrest of hundreds of princes, ministers and senior officials sparked international protests and sharp comments from European leaders, before a final agreement last month with his opponents in Saudi Arabia’s establishment.

As part of a settlement agreement reached in late April, 21 princes, three former ministers and several major businessmen were granted reduced sentences, although many are still in custody.

Mohammed bin Salman said he had used his public contacts and close protection to get commitments for access to those who had been detained. “I was very open in my conversations with them,” he said, in a rare apology for what many say was a crackdown on corruption and a violation of the kingdom’s written rules.

“I wanted to achieve things for people,” he said. “People say: ‘What are you getting all these people for?’ I wanted to develop their capabilities.”

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