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Originally Posted: December 27, 2017

Saudi crown prince’s lavish buys: Some see hypocrisy, others say they’re no big deal

  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been linked to multimillion-dollar purchases of artwork, real estate and yachts.
  • Some warn the purchases send the wrong signal at a time when the powerful crown prince is spearheading an anti-corruption campaign.
  • Others say the purchases have nothing to do with the crackdown and many Saudis aren’t bothered by Crown Prince Mohammed’s spending.

A series of recent reports have connected Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince — an avowed anti-corruption crusader — to lavish real estate, art and yacht purchases.

To some, the spending is a sign of hypocrisy and a threat to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s legitimacy. The reports come on the heels of his anti-graft campaign, which culminated in the detention of Saudi princes, officials and businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

But to others, the purchases are legitimate investments and nothing unusual for a future king.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017.

The 32-year-old crown prince is a polarizing figure who has captured the financial world’s attention. First in line to succeed his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, he is spearheading Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation plan and has overseen an invasion of Yemen, a blockade of Qatar and a domestic crackdown on graft that has swept up high-profile royals.

As such, his every move is dissected by Middle East watchers for signs of turbulence in the world’s second-largest oil-producing nation and pre-eminent Sunni Muslim power. This month, a pair of New York Times investigations gave tea-leaf readers plenty to talk about.

First, the paper linked Crown Prince Mohammed to the record $450.3 million auction sale of a Leonardo da Vinci painting, “Salvator Mundi.” The following week, the Times traced the mysterious $300 million saleof Chateau Louis XIV in France to Crown Prince Mohammed. The paper also noted his roughly $500 million yacht purchase in 2015, reportedly a spur-of-the-moment splurge.

Crown Prince Bin Salman has bought world’s most expensive home  5:07 PM ET Mon, 18 Dec 2017 | 01:13

The Saudi government declined to comment about the chateau to the Times, but has disputed reports that a Saudi royal purchased the da Vinci on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed.

In light of the anti-corruption arrests, the chateau and yacht purchases send signals that are inconsistent with Crown Prince Mohammed’s social and economic reforms, said Robert Jordan, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President George W. Bush.

“The lack of judgement and the lack of self-awareness that this reflects I think is shocking,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday.

“There will be members of the royal family, others in the community, who are saying, ‘Wait a minute. This guy is just the biggest hypocrite in the world.’ So, I think he’s got to be very careful to balance that,” said Jordan, now an adjunct political science professor at Southern Methodist University. READ MORE