LOS ANGELES (CN) — A former Kuwaiti minister of defense was given a new chance to claim he's the rightful owner of the so-called Mountain in Beverly Hills, a 157-acre plot of undeveloped land that at one point was valued at $1 billion.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder signed the order Monday, allowing Khaled al-Sabah to file an amended claim in a series of forfeiture lawsuits brought by federal prosecutors to seize the Mountain and other properties that they allege he acquired with Kuwaiti state funds funneled illegally into the U.S.
The ruling is a reprieve for al-Sabah just two months after the judge had been poised to grant the U.S. government's request to strike his claims to the assets they seek to forfeit, property that includes three homes in Beverly Hills, a penthouse and an apartment in LA, a private jet, a yacht, a Lamborghini sports car and about $40,000 worth of Manny Pacquiao memorabilia.
In an amended claims, al-Sabah will get the chance to detail, among other things, the authority the late emir of Kuwait purportedly gave him to invest the funds that the former minister maintains belonged to the royal family and not the state. Snyder said the still=pending U.S. motion to strike his claims was moot.
"The Court agrees with claimant that the former Amir, the royal family, and claimant's wife are relevant to this forfeiture action," the judge wrote. "Not only has claimant previously justified his standing based on the contention that he was authorized by the Amir to transfer funds, but the question of whether he was so authorized goes to the merits of the forfeiture action."
An attorney for al-Sabah and representatives of the U.S. attorney's office in LA, which brought the forfeiture lawsuits, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.
The Kuwaiti government has filed its own claims to the California assets and has denied that al-Sabah, himself a member of the royal family, was authorized to invest the money.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, starting around 2010, al-Sabah and other Kuwaiti officials used the London attaché office of the defense ministry to illegally funnel more than $100 million of Kuwaiti public funds from the office's procurement account to bank accounts in California.
Al-Sabah used the money for an investment with a California father-and-son duo in the notorious "Mountain" in Beverly Hills — a 157-acre, undeveloped hilltop property that over the years has belonged to the sister of the last shah of Iran, Merv Griffin and the late Herbal Life founder Mark Hughes. The site has at one point been valued at $1 billion.
The investment, according al-Sabah, turned out to be a fraud scheme. The minister says his California business partners, Victorino Noval, a convicted felon, and that man's son, Victor Franco Noval, stole most of the $165 million in investment funds they received from him. They were the ones, according to al-Sabah, who used the funds to buy the Beverly Hills properties, private airplane, yacht and Lamborghini that the U.S. now seeks to seize.
The Novals and various business entities that hold title to the assets are also pursuing claims in the forfeiture lawsuits.Follow @edpettersson
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