A black rhino roaming the endless expanses of the 90,000-acre Ol Pejeta Conservancy back in the 1970s would probably have been startled by the loud sounds of noisy parties from the residential property there, from time to time.
The host of those parties, and master of Ol Pejeta, would happen to be none other than the Saudi arms dealer (on his way to being a dollar billionaire back then) called Adnan Khashoggi, who was at one point the most extravagant human on the planet, blowing about $250,000 (Sh25 million daily). That is over Sh1 million per hour.
Known as the ‘go to’ guy for weapons across the globe, Khashoggi was making commissions from different militaries to whom he was the middle man in the arms deals that brought him millions monthly – from selling tanks to the French, helicopters to the British, missiles to the Saudi government (his dad had been the Saudi King’s personal physician) to help prop up the regime in Yemen, arms to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and the list goes on.
Khashoggi was also a salesman (on massive scale) and international agent for luxury car brands like Rolls Royce, Marconi and the British Aircraft Company (BAC) back in his hey day, when the money never stopped rolling in.
But he was also a big, big spender – with a dozen mansions across the world, a huge customised personal plane and a super-yacht called Nabila (after his daughter) on whose deck he threw massive parties that went on for days, complete with decadence as dozens of pretty women (from Vegas dancers to models to minor LA starlets to very expensive ‘escorts’ and call girls) were on board.
Adnan was also not shy about carrying these ‘flowers on the table’ to his meetings with royals or other tycoons, and did not mind flaunting his wealth and wild lifestyle to the media – and the press, especially the British tabloids, ate everything ‘Khashoggi’ up with delighted relish.
Khashoggi had begun his wheeler-dealing early, but on large scale.
As a foreign student in Chico State College in California, he exported Kenworth construction trucks from America and sold them to the likes of Osama Bin Laden’s father (a construc tion billionaire).
But while Osama would grow up to loathe the West and all its ‘decadent’ lifestyle – turning himself into the Most Wanted Man on Earth for a decade (with a $50 million dollar bounty on his head), Khashoggi would be the man buying a super-yacht for that amount of cash. And, for a while there, everything was wonderful.
Getaway in the wild
Then the insane impulse buying began to go to levels that were beginning to be out of control.
Khashoggi bought a bank in California because of college nostalgia (and to launder money).
He got into the huge scale cattle business in Brazil with no idea of how to be a ‘cowboy’ tycoon.
Because he loved his suits (he owned over a thousand designer ones), he bought a fashion house in Paris with no idea of what a backstitch or back tack is. On holiday in Fiji, he liked the place so much he plunged into an entire hotel franchise business in that island faraway in the middle of the Pacific.
And having ‘fallen in love’ with Kenya while on safari here, Adnan Khashoggi of course just had to get Ol Pejeta – yet he was no Kuki Gallman and was not really interested in wildlife conservation. Just a getaway in the wild.
A half billion dollar ‘pyramid’ hotel in Egypt and a billion dollar failure property speculation deal in Salt Lake City, Utah, the USA, would be the two deals though, that would cut his financial legs.
And at the moment his income sources had dried up, with a huge fall in global oil prices (so the Saudis were not buying weapons), his days of favour in the royal palace of Jeddah had also come to an end.
The new king Fahd, and his brother Prince Sultan, found Adnan Khashoggi’s lifestyle and extravagance not to their taste – so kept him at arm’s length and gave him few deals.
As his influence in the royal court waned, people who owed him lots of cash for arms also began delaying his payments, or not giving him his eight figure commissions – but Adnan was that man who cannot adjust his lifestyle to new circumstances.
He began to sell his properties to maintain his ‘standards,’ doing dubious deals with the likes of the shoe-loving Imelda Marcos of Philippines in Manhattan that backfired, and borrowing loans from guys like Tiny Rowland (who at one time owned this newspaper) who got his accounts frozen.
The nadir of Adnan’s misfortunes was when his yacht (which featured in the Bond movie ‘Never Say Never Again) was seized by the Sultan of Brunei because Khashoggi owed him $50 million (five billion shillings).
The Sultan later sold it to businessman Donald Trump for $27 million, who called it The Trump Princess. When Trump went bankrupt in Atlantic City with casinos like the Trump Taj Mahal, he had to sell it for $20 million to another Saudi billionaire – Al-Walad bin Talal.
Khashoggi died on Tuesday in London, where he had spent his final days surrounded by his family -- his Italian-born wife Lamia, children and grandchildren.
He was 82.