Saudi Royal Family Is Still Spending in an Age of Austerity
TANGIER, Morocco — Behind a tall perimeter wall, studded with surveillance cameras and guarded by Moroccan soldiers, a sprawling new palace for King Salman of Saudi Arabia rose on the Atlantic coast here last summer.
Even as the Saudi government canceled a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of projects back home as part of a fiscal austerity program, workers hustled to finish bright blue landing pads for helicopters at the vacation compound and to erect a tent the size of a circus big-top where the king could feast and entertain his enormous retinue.
The royal family’s fortune derives from the reserves of petroleum discovered during the reign of Salman’s father, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, more than 75 years ago. The sale of oil provides billions of dollars in annual allowances, public-sector sinecures and perks for royals, the wealthiest of whom own French châteaus and Saudi palaces and stash money in Swiss bank accounts.
王室的财富源自逾75年前，那是在萨勒曼的父亲阿卜杜勒·本·沙特国王(King Abdul bin Saud)统治时期，沙特发现了石油。石油销售收入每年带来了数以十亿美元计的补贴、公共部门的闲职，以及王室的福利。最富有的王室成员拥有法国城堡、沙特宫殿，以及瑞士银行账户的存款。
King Salman serves as chairman of the family business unofficially known as “Al Saud Inc.” Sustained low oil prices have strained the economy and forced questions about whether the family — with thousands of members and still growing — can simultaneously maintain its lavish lifestyle and its unchallenged grip on the country.
萨勒曼国王担任家族企业的主席，这个企业的非官方名称为阿勒沙特公司(Al Saud Inc.)。持续低迷的油价导致了经济紧张，人们怀疑这个拥有数以千计成员并且人数仍在增加的家族，是否能维持其奢华的生活方式，保持对沙特无人挑战的控制。
“The people have less money than before, but the royal family have the same,” said Prince Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud, a dissident member of the extended family living in Germany. “There is a lot of state money which is concealed from the budget, which is determined by the king alone.”
“人们的钱比以前少了，但王室的钱没有减少。沙特有很多钱没有计入预算，由国王一个人决定这些钱怎么花。”这个大家族中的异见者、现居德国的哈立德·本·法尔汉·阿勒沙特(Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud)王子说道。
These are anxious times for the royals, led by an 80-year-old who has already had at least one stroke and is likely to be the last of six sons of the founding monarch to serve as sovereign. He must wrangle a band of relatives, from the merely well-off to billionaires, who are accustomed from birth to privilege and plenty.
While there are serious problems beyond the borders — a costly war in Yemen, violence in Iraq and Syria, an emboldened Iran — it is the country’s economic troubles that risk roiling ordinary citizens, if their own cradle-to-grave benefits are cut too much.
Revenues from the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, have long been the lifeblood of government spending. Some in the family have resisted a proposal by the king’s son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to partly privatize it, since listing it on stock exchanges in New York or London would bring new audits of Aramco and possibly more insights into government funding, and in turn, money for the royals.
国有油企沙特阿美公司(Saudi Aramco)的收入长期以来一直是政府支出的命脉。王室中一些人抵制了国王的儿子、副王储穆罕默德·本·萨勒曼(Mohammed bin Salman)将其部分私有化的建议，因为它在纽约或伦敦的证券交易所上市后，该公司就会遭受更多的审计，可能会让外人更多地了解政府资金的账目，从而了解到王室的资金信息。
Facing huge budget gaps, the government has cut public-sector pay along with subsidies, sending gasoline, electricity and even water bills higher. The kingdom has begun borrowing by the billions both at home and abroad. And hiring by the government — a large and sought after employer for Saudis — has been cut, instilling fear for the future in younger people who cannot find work.
Royals are sharing the pain, according to Anas al-Qusayer, the spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Information, who said that their allowances had been reduced. At least some royals, though, have seen no decline in their stipends, according to several Saudis close to the family.
“Under Salman, princes again appear to enjoy a lot more material privileges, and the core allowance system has not been changed,” said Steffen Hertog, an associate professor at the London School of Economics who wrote a book on the political economy of Saudi Arabia, “Princes, Brokers and Bureaucrats.”
伦敦经济学院(London School of Economics)副教授斯蒂芬·赫尔托格(Steffen Hertog)说，“在萨勒曼领导下，王子们似乎再次享有了更多的物质特权，核心的津贴制度并没有改变。”他写过一本关于沙特阿拉伯政经方面的书，名为《王子、掮客和官僚》(Princes, Brokers and Bureaucrats)。
Some Saudi royals are still spending big. Dania Sinno, a real estate agent with Belles Demeures de France, said that multiple family members had been buying property in Paris in the last year. She recently sold a nearly 11,000-square-foot apartment on the exclusive Rue Octave-Feuillet for more than $30 million to a Saudi princess.
某些沙特王室成员的开支依然很大。法国美宅公司(Belles Demeures de France)的房地产经纪人达尼娅·辛诺(Dania Sinno)说，去年，多名王室成员在法国购置了房产。她最近把位于富人区奥克塔夫-弗耶街(Rue Octave-Feuillet)的一套面积接近1.1万平方英尺的公寓以逾3000万美元的价格卖给了一名沙特公主。
Through dozens of interviews with diplomats and money managers, economists, real-estate and travel agents, interior decorators and members of the House of Saud and by reviewing court records and real-estate documents, The New York Times has pieced together details of the family’s spending.
The scale of the clan’s fortune is a closely guarded secret. The money is divided among many relatives and spread across several continents, making a precise accounting difficult. The funding mechanisms are opaque by design. The share of the Saudi budget that ultimately makes its way into royal coffers is not disclosed.
While chinks in the wall of secrecy appear through legal cases and tabloid reports overseas, the royals have learned not to flaunt their wealth before the nation’s 30 million commoners. The family members have erected high walls around their palaces, bought overseas assets with shell companies, used intermediaries for large investments and demanded nondisclosure agreements from employees.
The so-called Panama Papers released in April revealed that King Salman was involved in offshore companies in Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands. The records linked him to a yacht and multimillion-dollar properties in London.
The relatives in the royal family number in the thousands, but from there, estimates diverge, said Joseph A. Kechichian, who has studied the family for three decades and wrote a book, “Succession in Saudi Arabia.” He estimates that there are now 12,000 to 15,000 princes and about as many princesses. Princess Basmah bint Saud, a daughter of King Saud, five years ago put the number of royals at 15,000.
王室成员数以千计，但对王室进行了30年的研究、著有《沙特阿拉伯王室传承》(Succession in Saudi Arabia)一书的约瑟夫·A·克奇安(Joseph A Kechichian)说，各方对人数的估计存在较大分歧。据他估算，目前有1.2万至1.5万名王子，公主的人数与此相近。沙特国王(King Saud)的女儿巴斯马·宾特·沙特公主(Princess Basmah bint Saud)则于五年前称，王室共有1.5万名成员。
But the Saudi ministry spokesman, Qusayer, said there were no more than 5,000 members of the House of Saud. The difference may stem in part from whether or how one counts distant relatives and families who ruled back before the time of King Abdulaziz, the current king’s father.
At some point, the family could grow too large to support. “There has to be some decision about lopping off some of the branches,” said F. Gregory Gause III, a Middle East specialist at the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service.
到了某个时刻，王室规模可能会扩大到支出高昂、无以为继的程度。“必须做出某种决策，砍掉一些枝蔓，”德州农工大学(Texas A&M University)布什政府与公共服务学院(Bush School of Government and Public Service)的中东问题专家F·格雷戈里·高斯三世(F. Gregory Gause III)说。
As the size of the family and the general population have grown, some observers say, the balance of rewards has become harder to maintain. Despite a robust social safety net — including free education and health care — there are poor Saudis, and many in the middle class barely make ends meet.
“At the top level, they know that they have to leave something for the rest of the country, otherwise they’ll be out on their ear,” Jean-François Seznec, senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, said of the royal family. “If you ask the population to make sacrifices in order for the state to get money, you can’t have one part of the society take advantage.”
“位于最顶层的人知道，他们必须给这个国家的其他人留点儿什么，否则他们将被扫地出门，”大西洋理事会(Atlantic Council)全球能源中心的高级研究员让-弗朗索瓦·塞泽克(Jean-Francois Seznec)说。“如果你要求民众做出牺牲，以便增加政府的收入，你就不能让一部分社会成员占便宜。”
Senior members of the House of Saud are keenly aware that they lost their previous kingdom in the 19th century because of family infighting. King Saud was deposed in 1964 and replaced by his brother King Faisal, who, in turn, was assassinated by a nephew.
When upheaval occurred in countries all around Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring, King Abdullah’s response was to spend $130 billion on salaries and social programs.
Salman, who succeeded Abdullah in January 2015, bestowed an estimated $32 billion on his subjects, including bonuses of two months’ salary to government employees. Oil prices had begun their precipitous decline, but it was not yet clear how far they would fall.
Three months later, the king promoted his nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, now 57, as the first crown prince among the founding king’s grandsons, and his own son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now 31, as next in line.
三个月后，萨勒曼国王将其现年57岁的侄子穆罕默德·本·纳伊夫王子(Prince Mohammed bin Nayef)指定为第一顺位继承人，并将自己的儿子、现年31岁的穆罕默德·本·萨勒曼王子(Prince Mohammed bin Salman)指定为第二顺位继承人。这二人都是建国君主的孙子。
While members of the family have been investing overseas for decades, the pace of buying homes abroad has quickened in the last two years, according to Ardavan Amir-Aslani, a business lawyer who has advised Saudi princes on real estate acquisitions in France. “In the event the situation becomes dire for them, they want to have an option, and a place to go to live, a place to have assets,” he said.
“They’re not only securing their capital,” he added, “but also their future lives.”