Secret Kingdom: King Abdullah doubled his family’s wealth

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, in constant demand from his country’s wealthy visitors, has expanded his real estate holdings to include some of the Middle East’s most prominent properties.

An Associated Press analysis of property records in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia found that over the last decade, Abdullah has amassed the region’s third-largest palace outside of the United Arab Emirates. These holdings now account for about 25% of all luxury properties owned by the king in the region, behind only the homes of US presidents and Israeli prime ministers.

The real estate empire is impressive. His Hassan al-Turki palace, which he has so far been renting out to low-profile families, boasts a high-end pool, a library with books and artist studios. Along with an expanded room for the horse, Abdullah recently added a basement club room with a massive TV screen for the royal family, a jacuzzi, a sauna and a pool with a waterfall.

There are gifts and then there are gifts for the king. Photograph: Hazem Balousha/AP

According to Jordanian property records, the palace and two other properties owned by Abdullah or his relative were all purchased in the 2000s in what are essentially small towns outside Jordan’s most famous cities.

Abdullah has largely brushed off criticism of the extravagance of his lifestyle. In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in March 2010, Abdullah claimed he and his relatives had received many international awards, and “these people chose me to receive them, and the credit goes to them”.

There are competing versions of how those awards are bestowed, from the world’s luxury media to a would-be speaker of the Saudi throne.

Representatives for Abdullah and the royal palace did not return a request for comment.

The focus on luxury property hardly represents a new strategy for Abdullah, who recently submitted a proposal to Jordan’s parliament that would reduce the housing budget for households earning less than $25,000 (£16,060) per year.

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The building boom began as a social reform effort. When Abdullah returned to Jordan from Australia in 2000, he was faced with huge internal problems and huge external problems, said Samih al-Hallaq, an economist who has studied the family’s real estate holdings and been critical of them.

As his kingdom faced political turmoil, the king looked to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other states for financial assistance and help with reform. “Instead of seizing this as an opportunity to reform, he surrendered to the demand of the wealthy leaders in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Hallaq.

Along with the lavish cash transfers, Abdullah has furnished his palace, and his own private home and office, with gifts, some more outright than others.

Abdullah’s three wives each have their own homes and family apartments outside of the palace, records show. But Hallaq said they were gradually upgraded with Saudi money, and converted into palace-like properties. Abdullah’s personal office has been a full-fledged palace since the mid-2000s, records show.

“What you have here is the whopper of all,” said Hamad Oudeh, chairman of the Jordan Real Estate Assn., comparing it to the opulence of some of the royal palaces of Gulf states. “The ownership structure for the leaders of the Gulf states is different. The Jordanian leaders and their families and their families or their descendants have access to money.”

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