A federal judge in Boston ruled today that the federal government can block filings in a legal dispute over ownership of condos in three of Boston's most expensive buildings because filings by both their current owners - a former Saudi anti-terrorism official and his two sons - and the Saudi government could reveal sensitive and possibly embarrassing details of our long-standing ties with Saudi security and anti-terrorism efforts.
In his ruling, US District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton said lawyers for Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines had shown him sufficient proof that national security would be at stake in filings by either side on how money from Saudi Arabia wound up paying for the condos, which are assessed at between $829,000 and $8.8 million.
Normally, when judges issue declarations in rulings, they explain them, but Gorton said no more:
Because of the breadth of the claim and the highly sensitive nature of the privileged material, the Court will not further elaborate upon its reasoning which would necessarily result in disclosure of privileged information.
However, he did note in general that the government sought to bar:
Information that, if disclosed, would result in an impairment of the nation’s defense capabilities, disclosure of intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities and disruption of diplomatic relations with foreign governments.
At issue in Boston are condos at One Dalton Place, the Mandarin Oriental and Millennium Place now owned by Saad Khalid Aljabri and his two sons. Aljabri formally headed a corporation the Saudi government set up to run its anti-terrorism efforts, but he was booted from the job after his preferred princeling lost a succession battle to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and bin Salman took effective control of the Saudi government.
The Saudi government sued the Aljabris in Ontario, where they also own property, alleging they had absconded with Saudi government money. After winning a court order that effectively froze the property in that province, they sued the Aljabris in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston in March, seeking a similar order for the eight condos. Aljabri then had the suit moved to federal court, where he planned to argue that he had bought the condos legitimately in his role at the Saudi anti-terrorism company.
The US government then moved to intervene - and to block Aljabri from using any information in his defense that might implicate national-security interests.
Gorton acknowledged this potentially cuts the heart out of Aljabri's defense, but said national security interests left him no choice. To remedy this "potential unfairness," Gorton said he is now considering tossing the Saudi government's suit altogether.
Attorneys for the Saudi government have told Gorton they would not use any sensitive information to press their case, but Gorton said, sorry, he's not going to trust a foreign government when US national security is at stake.
While the plaintiff is similarly interested in the non-disclosure of the information, it is a foreign entity and as such cannot be fully aligned with the national security interests of the United States government or capable of adequately representing them.
Gorton gave the Saudi attorneys until Nov. 9 to file a legal memorandum explaining why he should allow the lawsuit to continue, followed by a hearing on Nov. 12 - in private, if necessary.