Belgium’s King Albert II has offered his condolences. Albert and Fahd crossed each other’s paths when they were both crown princes, but the Belgian will probably not like to be reminded of it. The new Saudi king, Abdullah, Fahd’s halfbrother, is also a friend of Albert’s, from the same period in Albert’s womanising past.
As crown prince, the Belgian Prince Albert was president of the Belgian Institute for Foreign Trade. This meant that he accompanied delegations of Belgian businessmen on promotional trips abroad. Albert accompanied three, sometimes four, of these trade missions a year. Each trip lasted about eight days. The trips gave the Crown Prince ample opportunity for exotic sexual adventures. His staff had a code phrase for this, which was soon also known to journalists: “The prince is off for some nature exploration.”
One trade expedition was to haunt Albert for decades to come. On 14 June 1976, Eurosystem Hospitalier (ESH), a subsidiary of the Société Générale (SG), a holding company partly owned by the Belgian royal family, entered into a mammoth contract worth 36.3 billion Belgian francs (currently 2.27 billion euros), with the Saudi authorities to build and exploit hospitals for the Saudi National Guard in Riyadh and Jeddah. The contract was the result of a trade mission to Saudi-Arabia led by Albert in October 1975. Albert’s presence played a pivotal role in convincing Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, in those days the head of the Saudi National Guard (and now, at the age of 81, Saudi Arabia’s new King), to have the Belgians build the hospitals instead of an Anglo-American consortium. The contract was arranged, as it was said, “prince-to-prince.”
Shortly after the work had started, a Mexican subcontractor of the Belgians went bankrupt. As a result, the building works ran up serious delays, the Saudis stopped their payments and the undercapitalised ESH got into financial difficulties: the company had a capital of only 5 million francs. In April and October 1978, Albert personally intervened with the then Saudi Crown Prince (and later King) Fahd (who died today), to solve the problems, but to no avail: ESH went bankrupt the following year.
After the ESH bankruptcy, it was discovered that in order to obtain the Saudi contract, the company had paid a staggering 8.5 billion francs (currently 530 million euros) – or almost a quarter of the contracts’ value – in bribes. Part of this money, at least 200 million francs, though some sources even mention 1.5 billion, had been paid to Belgian intermediaries. It has never been discovered who they were. Was Prince Albert one of them? The question was hinted at in some Belgian newspapers, but Parliament never investigated the matter and the government minimized the whole affair.
By appointment to the courts of Saudi Arabia and Belgium
Some of the bribes were paid in kind. The public relations director of ESH ran a ring of prostitutes to pamper clients and business partners. This PR director, a pretty Egyptian of Dutch nationality, whose full name was Fortunato Habib Israel, but whom everyone knew as “Tuna,” was a prostitution expert. Madam Tuna had settled in Brussels in 1968 after her divorce from her Dutch husband. The perceptive lady had noticed that the “capital of Europe” lacked a network of luxury call-girls. Hence, she established one. Her speciality was the organisation of multi-partner sex orgies or “pink ballets.” Through her work, Tuna met the Belgian billionaire Roger Boas, owner of the arms company Asco, one of the companies involved in the ESH project. In 1976, Boas made Tuna the head of public relations at ESH. Her job was, as she told the Brussels police on 26 February 1979, “finding girls who would agree to keep the Prince and his companions company on their trip abroad. These girls were prostitutes.” Tuna engaged up to 200 prostitutes and provided services, including pink ballets, to ESH business partners world-wide. Sometimes, work even had to be subcontracted, in particular to her friend, Lydia Montaricourt, who had bought over Tuna’s Brussels escort service when the latter went to work for ESH. Tuna also offered girls two-year contracts as “nurses” in Saudi Arabia.
After ESH went bankrupt, some of its former managers asked Prince Albert’s support for obtaining new contracts in Saudi Arabia. Henri Simonet, the Belgian Foreign Minister, felt compelled to warn the then Belgian King Baudouin that his brother Albert was getting involved in a new deal to win the Saudis over with “commissions and intermediaries” (read: bribes and prostitutes). In a strongly worded rebuttal the Prince threatened to resign as president of the Belgian Foreign Trade Institute. On 27 September 1979 he wrote to Simonet “You will understand that I am somewhat embittered after the attacks in the press and the insinuations about me.” The then Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens came to Albert’s rescue. He declared in Parliament that no member of the royal family could be accused of any wrongdoings in the ESH affair.
Other scapegoats had to be found. Some directors of the bankrupt company were brought to court for mismanagement, but the case lasted so long that in 1989 it was precluded by reason of lapse of time. Initially, the police also went after the prostitutes. Tuna Israel was questioned, but, though she confessed to having run a prostitution network, she was not bothered again. She left Belgium and settled in Malta where she became the executive secretary of a local company belonging to her friend, the arms dealer Roger Boas. Lydia Montaricourt, however, was arrested. She, too, confessed that she was a pimp. During a search of her Brussels apartment on 19 February 1979, the police confiscated her diary, lists of clients going back to the years that Tuna ran the prostitution ring, letters, photos taken during pink ballets, a dildo and a vibrator, and 200,000 Belgian francs.
The confiscated list of clients was political dynamite. Not only did it include an “Albert,” but also a “Beaurire,” whose phone number matched the private number of Lieutenant-General Fernand Beaurir, the head of the Belgian Gendarmerie, and the big boss of the investigating policemen. In one of the pictures, the policemen recognised their chief, stark naked! One of the ring’s prostitutes, 30-year-old Maud Sarr, who was questioned on 19 March 1979, told the police that some clients of the network were also furnished with minors. This matter was not investigated further. The officers and magistrates researching the case soon ran into problems. Vital evidence, such as the picture of the naked Beaurir, the diary of Montaricourt and the list of clients, mysteriously disappeared from the police files. The officers were transferred to other departments and the investigation was discontinued. Montaricourt, who had remained silent about her clients, was convicted on 2 May 1979, barely three months after her arrest, to 15 months of imprisonment. No case had ever been dealt with so quickly by the Belgian judiciary. After the verdict, she was released at once. She was even given back her confiscated 200,000 francs and emigrated to France.
No-one denies that the pink ballets, the orgies organised by Tuna’s prostitution ring in the 1970s between consenting adults, actually took place. But apart from these “genuine” pink ballets, there are also the so-called “false” pink ballets: orgies involving sex with children. Whether the latter really existed, no-one knows for sure. Some people think they did; others do not.