Charles aide steps down amid probe into Saudi tycoon honours claims

Charles aide steps down amid probe into Saudi tycoon honours claims
A Saudi businessman donated more than £1.5m to royal charities, allegedly in the hope of securing British citizenship

Prince Charles’s closest aide has stepped down from his role after allegations he helped to secure a CBE for a Saudi tycoon who donated £1.5m to royal charities.

Michael Fawcett, the Prince of Wales’s former valet, temporarily stepped aside as chief executive of The Prince’s Foundation after newspapers claimed he was involved in a cash-for-favours scandal with Saudi businessman Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, who was reportedly looking to secure British citizenship through an investor visa.

The newspapers reported Mr Mahfouz had been advised that securing honorary roles and awards would help his chances of being approved for the visa.

The Sunday Times reported he donated more than £1.5m to restoration projects that were of particular interest to Charles and The Prince’s Foundation, including Dumfries House and the Castle of Mey in Scotland, where there is a forest named after him – the Mahfouz Wood. Mr Mahfouz is publicly acknowledged as a patron of the Prince’s Foundation.

Mr Mahfouz was awarded an honorary CBE by Charles in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in November 2016. The ceremony was not announced in the Court Curricular, the official list of royal engagements, The Sunday Times reported, but official documents show that the Queen awarded Mr Mahfouz his CBE “for services to charities in the UK”.

The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Fawcett wrote in a letter that the royal charity would be “happy and willing” to use its influence to assist Mr Mahfouz to help secure an honorary knighthood and support a citizenship bid for the businessman, in response to and in anticipation of ongoing support of the charity.

The letter, reportedly written by Mr Fawcett on 18 August 2017 to Busief Lamlum, an aide of Mr Mahfouz, said: “I am happy to confirm to you, in confidence, that we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for Citizenship.

“I can further confirm that we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honor from Honorary CBE to that of KBE in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee.

“Both of these applications will be made in response to the most recent and anticipated support [of] The Trust, and in connection with his ongoing commitment generally within the United Kingdom.”

A spokesperson for Mr Mahfouz told the Mail on Sunday he had ceased his application for citizenship and insisted the Saudi tycoon had not expected any reward for his charitable donations and denied any wrongdoing.

Douglas Connell, the chair of The Prince’s Foundation confirmed on Saturday that Mr Fawcett had temporarily stepped down.

He said: “Earlier today, Michael Fawcett offered to step down temporarily from active duties as chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation while the trustees’ investigation is ongoing.

“The Prince’s Foundation has accepted this offer. Michael fully supports the ongoing investigation and has confirmed that he will assist the investigation in every way,” he added.

Emily Cherrington, the foundation’s chief operating officer is understood to be taking over Mr Fawcett’s role in the interim.

A spokesperson for The Prince’s Foundation said: “The Prince’s Foundation takes very seriously the allegations that have recently been brought to its attention and the matter is currently under investigation.

“We are incredibly proud of The Prince’s Foundation’s charitable work and the positive impact it has had on our beneficiaries throughout the UK and across the world.

“Our education and training programmes, in particular, benefit more than 15,000 people every year and provide our students with the skills and confidence needed to gain employment or start their own businesses.”

Buckingham Palace could not be reached for comment.

Mr Fawcett began his royal service in 1981 as a footman to the Queen, rising through the ranks to sergeant footman and then Charles’s assistant valet, setting out his bespoke suits and shirts every morning at Kensington Palace.

He was accused of selling unwanted royal gifts and pocketing a percentage of the proceeds when he was Charles’s personal assistant, but was cleared by an internal inquiry of any financial misconduct.

The inquiry, headed by Charles’s then private secretary Sir Michael Peat, found Mr Fawcett did “infringe internal rules relating to gifts from suppliers” but could not be severely criticised because the rules were not enforced and he made no secret of such gifts.

But the report painted a picture of Mr Fawcett as an alleged bully who accepted valuable gifts from outsiders.

The royal aide resigned following the report’s publication, but continued to have the prince’s patronage as a freelance fixer and party planner, and picked up an undisclosed cash severance package as well as an agreement to work as the Prince’s events manager.

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