With Prince Philip dead, Prince Andrew seemingly hiding from a sex lawsuit, and Prince Harry lobbing bombs from across the pond, the British royal family has never looked quite as dilapidated as it does now. What the Firm needs, more than anything, is a leader, a true figurehead who could cut through all the grime and pettiness and lead the country by the power of his or her virtue alone. Most people would expect that person to be Prince Charles, the relatively imminent heir to the throne.
Except, well, no. Because, in what would count as a major scandal if it weren’t for literally every other thing this cursed family has gotten up to lately, Prince Charles has apparently found himself caught up in the ugliest of affairs: a cash-for-favors crisis.
This week, the chief executive of a charity founded by Prince Charles temporarily stepped down from his position amid claims he offered to reward a Saudi businessman with a knighthood, British citizenship, and a seat in the House of Lords in return for donations totaling more than $2 million. The donor in question is tycoon Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, a son of one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men.
The charity in question is the Prince’s Foundation, which unhelpfully describes itself as providing “holistic solutions to challenges facing the world today.” That said, in the cold light of day, many of those challenges appear to be raising money to restore some homes used by Prince Charles. And the Prince doesn’t appear to have been too choosy when it comes to sourcing the money.
Take Dumfries House, an 18th-century Scottish mansion filled with an extraordinary collection of Thomas Chippendale pieces. It also has a fountain that is now named after Mahfouz. Or the Castle of Mey, a 16th-century pile that was purchased and lovingly restored by the Queen Mother, where visitors can now rest their behinds on one of the many benches that bear the name of the Mahfouz family.
And it turns out that Mahfouz might not only have palatial appreciation on his mind when donating to the Prince’s Foundation. He was attempting to secure a “golden visa,” a way of gaining British citizenship through financial investment, and was advised that hoovering up as many titles as possible would help his cause. In return, he was also reportedly granted a number of meetings with Prince Charles. But even that wasn’t enough. In 2014, William Bortrick, a paid adviser to Mahfouz and a man best known for being chairman of the 200-year-old genealogical publisher Burke’s Peerage, reportedly wrote a letter declaring that “once [Mahfouz] has Hon O.B.E., citizenship, knighthood and a peerage, then more money will flow.” Letter aside, Mahfouz denies any wrongdoing.
Although the knighthood, place in the House of Lords, and citizenship apparently never materialized, Mahfouz was awarded an “honorary” C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire, one class up from an Order of the British Empire) by Prince Charles. This reportedly took place during a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace five years ago—an event not recorded in the official public list of royal engagements.
So far, only the charity’s chief executive has publicly taken the fall for this extraordinary lapse of judgment. Michael Fawcett—a former valet whose roles reportedly once included squeezing Prince Charles’s toothpaste and, when required, holding his specimen bottles as they filled with royal urine—had his hand forced by e-mails leaked to The Mail on Sunday. The messages reportedly showed Fawcett thanking Mahfouz for the money. More stinging still, the e-mails added that “I can further confirm that we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honour from Honorary C.B.E. to that of K.B.E. [a knighthood] in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee,” according to The Mail on Sunday.
“Once [Mahfouz] has Hon O.B.E., citizenship, knighthood and a peerage, then more money will flow.”
Fawcett is likely to bounce back from this. A close confidant of Prince Charles’s, this is the third time he has worked for him, having previously been dismissed from one role for bullying and another for selling unwanted royal gifts and keeping a chunk of the profits, according to reports. Seemingly impervious to scandal, you can almost guarantee that he will slip seamlessly back into the royal machine once all this has died down.
But there is a sense that the scandal goes even higher. Bortrick is also in possession of a draft of a letter that claims to signal Prince Charles’s support for the trade-off. “His Royal Highness supports these applications one hundred percent,” it reads. The fallout is so severe that former British government minister Norman Baker, claiming that the selling of titles is a criminal offense under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, has written to the Metropolitan Police to demand a formal investigation.
This isn’t even the first time that Prince Charles has been caught leaping into the deep pockets of foreigners. In 2010, he started an urban-planning venture with Latvian millionaire Valeri Belokon, who was subsequently convicted of money-laundering. A “core-fund patron” of the Prince’s Foundation is the title given to Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, the billionaire Saudi royal previously arrested for money-laundering and bribing officials. Turkish billionaire Cem Uzan, who had donated $550,000 to the foundation, was once sentenced to 15 months in prison by the High Court after failing to pay back billions of dollars in loans.
There is no suggestion that Prince Charles has profited personally from his association with these less than upstanding figures. And a Clarence House spokesman offered a curt “The Prince of Wales has no knowledge of the alleged offer of honours or British citizenship” in response to the claims. Nevertheless, he will soon be king. It’s one thing to be a second-tier royal trading honors for handouts, but it would stain the monarchy if the head of the family ever did the same. Selling access to yourself like this is cheap and grubby. In short, it sounds like something Prince Andrew would do.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL