Prince Charles was last night engulfed in a major controversy following claims he accepted a suitcase stuffed with €1 million in cash for his charity from a billionaire Qatari sheik.
On another occasion the controversial politician is said to have given the heir to the throne the same amount – equivalent to £820,000 – in wads of banknotes packed into carrier bags from royal grocer Fortnum & Mason.
In total, Charles reportedly received €3 million in cash for the Prince of Wales Charity Foundation from Sheik Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar, in payments made between 2011 and 2015.
The sheik personally handed €1 million in cash to Charles during a private meeting at Clarence House in 2015, it was reported last night.
The Prince immediately handed it to aides who arranged for the money to be passed in full to the charity.
The sheik is a contentious figure. He has conceded that under his premiership Qatar ‘maybe’ financed the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda without his knowledge. He has also been dubbed ‘the man who bought London’ after overseeing the Qatari purchase of Harrods, the Shard and the Olympic village.
The cash he gave to the Prince was collected by the private bank Coutts, whose wealthy clients include the Queen, and was deposited directly into the accounts of the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund (PWCF), according to The Sunday Times.
Accountants say that accepting cash in good faith constitutes a legitimate charitable donation. But the current royal gift policy says Family members must ‘never accept’ money but can accept ‘a cheque’ on behalf of a charity.
While there is no suggestion that Charles or Mr Al Thani acted illegally, nor that the Prince offered anything in return for the generous donations, the episode has raised fresh questions over the Prince’s judgment and the wisdom of taking such large donations from a foreign billionaire.
Mr Al Thani was Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister between 2007 and 2013. The oil and gas-rich nation has long been criticised for its poor human rights record, particularly its treatment of gay people and women. Despite persistent claims of corruption, Qatar will host the World Cup later this year.
A friend of the Royal Family, Mr Al Thani was an occasional visitor to the Castle of Mey. The castle, the Queen Mother’s former home in Caithness, is maintained by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation – a different body from the grant-making Fund. The Foundation has also ploughed tens of millions of pounds of foreign donors’ money into Dumfries House, the Ayrshire mansion which Charles saved for the nation.
Sir Ian Cheshire, chair of the Fund, said last night: ‘We… confirm that the previous trustees of PWFC discussed the governance and donor relationship, confirming that the donor was a legitimate and verified counterparty and our auditors signed off on the donation after a specific enquiry during the audit.’
He added: ‘There was no failure of governance. The assurance of [the] 2015 donation has been verified from records. I believe the same assurance applied to earlier donations and look forward to confirming that in due course.’
A Clarence House spokesman said: ‘Charitable donations received from Sheik Hamad Bin Jassim were passed immediately to one of the Prince’s charities who carried out the appropriate governance and have assured us that all the correct processes were followed.’
Coutts declined to discuss specific transactions, but a spokesman said: ‘We have longstanding and robust policies and controls to assess the source, nature and purpose of large and unusual transactions. In particular, receipt of cash payments by the bank receive thorough review and oversight.’
It is not the first time allegations of receiving dubious donations have been levelled against a charity associated with the Prince of Wales. The Mail on Sunday revealed a ‘cash for honours’ scandal last year that led to the resignation of Charles’s closest confidant, Michael Fawcett, as its chief executive.
This newspaper published a letter which revealed that Mr Fawcett had offered to help a Saudi tycoon obtain both British citizenship and a knighthood.
He said the royal charity would be ‘happy and willing’ to use its influence to help businessman Mahfouz Marei Mubarak Bin Mahfouz, who had donated thousands of pounds.
Writing on August 18, 2017, Mr Fawcett told Busief Lamlum, an aide to Dr Bin Mahfouz: ‘In light of the ongoing and most recent generosity of His Excellency… I am happy to confirm to you, in confidence, that we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for citizenship.
‘I can further confirm that we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honour from Honorary CBE to that of KBE in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee.’
The letter is now at the heart of investigations by the Metropolitan Police and the Charity Commission.
The new allegations come after Dmitry Leus, a former Russian banker who lost £500,000 when money he pledged to Dumfries House went missing, received a letter of apology from Charles’s charity. The MoS revealed that wealthy donors were offered dinner with Charles and an overnight stay at Dumfries House in exchange for six-figure donations to the charity which has its headquarters at the mansion.
Mr Leus gave the £500,000 to middle men. The charity only received £100,000 but returned it to a fixer when they decided that Mr Leus was not a suitable donor. The remaining £400,000 is thought to be still missing.
The Prince has just returned from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Rwandan capital Kigali, where he represented the Queen and addressed world leaders.
Mr Al Thani could not be contacted for comment last night.
Will Charles now face fresh police probe into his charity millions?
By Mark Hookham, Senior Reporter for the Mail on Sunday
The allegations that Prince Charles accepted more than £2.5 million of cash – some of it stuffed into Fortnum & Mason carrier bags and a suitcase – plunges the future king into a second major scandal in less than a year.
As well as raising fresh questions about his judgment, it creates the alarming prospect of the heir to the throne being embroiled in a second charity commission investigation into the fundraising practices of his charities.
And it will throw the spotlight on senior Royal officials who are meant to guard against Charles being dragged into financial controversy.
The Mail on Sunday caused a sensation last September when it revealed that Charles’s closest confidante, Michael Fawcett, had offered to help a Saudi billionaire obtain a knighthood and British citizenship in exchange for generous cash donations.
Mr Fawcett dramatically stepped down as chief executive of The Prince’s Foundation after being confronted with a letter in which he said the charity would be ‘happy and willing’ to use its influence to help tycoon Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, who had donated thousands of pounds to it. In a blow to Charles, the Metropolitan Police announced earlier this year that it had launched an investigation into the explosive cash-for-honours allegations. Detectives are believed to be investigating potential offences under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. The Charity Commission is also investigating the Prince’s charity.
Following last night’s claims that Charles personally received three cash payments, totalling £2.58 million, from a former Qatari prime minister between 2011 and 2015, Clarence House faces further intense scrutiny over the financial conduct of the Prince’s charities.
On one occasion, Charles is said to have personally received £860,000 stuffed into carrier bags from the Fortnum & Mason department store from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
On another he reportedly accepted a holdall containing the same amount during a one-on-one meeting at Clarence House.
Last year’s scandal centred on how donations for Charles’s cherished scheme to renovate Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion in Ayrshire, Scotland, were solicited and what may have been promised in return. In a bombshell letter, written to an aide of Dr Bin Mahfouz in August 2017 and leaked to the MoS, Mr Fawcett made a direct link between the businessman’s incoming financial support and the support he would get in return for the knighthood and citizenship application. ‘In light of the ongoing and most recent generosity of His Excellency…I am happy to confirm to you, in confidence, that we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for Citizenship,’ he wrote on headed notepaper in his then capacity as the chief executive of the Dumfries House Trust. I can further confirm we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honour from Honorary CBE to that of KBE in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee.’
Dr Bin Mahfouz, who denies any wrongdoing and did not obtain either a knighthood or citizenship, had previously received an honorary CBE for services to charity from Charles in a private Buckingham Palace ceremony in 2016.
Within hours of the MoS contacting the Foundation about the letter last September, Mr Fawcett announced that he was stepping aside from his £95,000-a-year post. An independent investigation ordered by the charity later found that he co-ordinated with ‘so-called fixers’ in a bid to land an honour for a donor. It was a spectacular fall from grace for the former assistant valet who was Charles’s closest confidant for 40 years. ‘I can manage without just about anyone, except for Michael,’ the Prince once reportedly said.
As well as Fawcett stepping down, Douglas Connell, the chair of the Foundation, resigned citing evidence of possible ‘rogue activity’ and ‘serious misconduct’ of which he said he had no knowledge.
In November, it was confirmed that Fawcett had been permanently replaced as the charity’s chief executive by Emily Cherrington.
Ms Cherrington was tasked with restoring the Foundation’s battered reputation but, in a major blow to Charles and his charity, she has now been dragged into the fresh scandal about the extraordinary cash payments accepted by Charles. The Sunday Times last night alleged that she helped count one of the cash gifts.
Even before the scandal that toppled Fawcett, the Prince’s Foundation was embroiled in cash-for-access allegations. It emerged that society fixer Michael Wynne-Parker acted as a middleman for the charity, offering to set up dinners and an overnight stay with Charles at Dumfries House in exchange for six-figure donations to help restore the 18th Century mansion.
After the MoS exposed the deals, the charity announced an independent inquiry and said they had ceased working with Mr Wynne-Parker and William Bortrick, the editor of Burke’s Peerage who was receiving payments.
Earlier this year, a friend of Prince Charles insisted the heir to the throne had been ‘outraged’ when he discovered that Fawcett had offered honours to a wealthy businessman in return for donations, describing the scandal as an ‘earthquake’.
‘Charles is adamant that he knew absolutely nothing about Michael Fawcett’s activities,’ the source said. ‘When Charles was first told that The Mail on Sunday had the letter from Michael Fawcett, he didn’t believe it, but once it was established to be true, he was even more furious and demanded something was done about it. It was also a lesson that this must never happen again.’
Just months later, Charles finds himself assailed by another financial storm but this time – rather than the actions of an aide – the allegations involve his own judgment.