Cables Reveal Saudi Royals' Money Grabs
US messages detail royal welfare program, and royal schemes
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2011 1:48 PM CST
In this Sept. 10, 2010 file photo, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud performs Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.   (AP Photo/Saudi Press Agency, File)

(Newser) – The handouts Saudi King Abdullah is granting to his people are nothing compared to the handouts his family's thousands of princes and princesses have received over the past two decades. American diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks detail the royal welfare program, which has cost the country an estimated $2 billion per year and has angered many Saudis. The royal patronage system doled out, in the mid-1990s, $800 per month even to "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family," according to the documents. Sons of modern Saudi Arabia's founder, on the other hand, received up to $270,000 per month, Reuters reports.

The monthly stipends begin at birth, with bonus payments available for marriage or palace building. But they are apparently not enough for some royals: The cables also detail royal money-grabbing schemes, from the complex (skimming from "off-budget spending" projects) to the simple (borrowing money from the banks ... and never repaying it). Despite all this, the cable notes, there are few "super-rich" Saudi princes, as they are "more adept at squandering than accumulating wealth." Resentment has already pushed King Abdullah to institute some reforms—like no longer paying for the cell phones of thousands of princes and princesses.