Smuggling drugs in the Gulf is a high-risk enterprise, with frequent death sentences for dealers and mules. It is possible Sheikh Talal Nasser al-Sabah believed that being a relative of Kuwait’s rulers would protect him.
Now, with a death sentence hanging over the sheikh for drug trafficking, the oil-rich emirate is waiting to see whether the strict rule of law or the kinship ties of the ruling family will prevail.
The sheikh, who is in his fifties, was caught by Kuwaiti police with 10kg (22lb) of cocaine and 165lb of hashish. When sentencing him to death, Judge Humoud al-Mutwatah said that he had “willingly walked the path of evil” and deserved no mercy.
It was the first time that a member of a Gulf royal family had been condemned to death by a court, and is widely seen as a test case for the impartiality of the law in a country where the convict’s relative, the Emir, could pardon his wayward kinsman. The sheikh was the nephew of a previous Emir of Kuwait, Jaber al-Sabah, who died in 2006, and is one of hundreds of members of the huge ruling family. Lawyers at the time hailed the sentence as a sign of the impartiality of the law. Najib al-Wugayyan, a prominent criminal lawyer, called the verdict “a magnificent indication to all that nobody is above the law”.
And isn’t this interesting? A similar case involving a Saudi royal:
Strict as the laws are, they are not as harsh as those in Saudi Arabia, where smugglers convicted of trafficking marijuana have been beheaded. Even there, however, a member of the Royal Family, Prince Nayef bin Sultan bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan, has been caught up in drug trafficking.
Last year a French court sentenced the Prince in absentia to ten years in jail and a $100 million (£50 million) fine for his part in a plot to smuggle two tonnes of cocaine from Colombia to an airport outside Paris in 1999, using a private aircraft and diplomatic immunity to move the drugs. Since Saudi Arabia has no extradition treaty with France or the US, the Prince was not jailed.
But back to Kuwait
The conviction was not Sheikh al-Sabah’s first run-in with the law. In 1991 he was arrested by Egyptian police and charged with smuggling heroin, although he said at the time that it was all for personal use.
Sheikh al-Sabah continues to deny that he is a drug dealer and said that he has left his fate to the Emir. “I am drug-addicted and I am getting cured. I don’t deal,” he told the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jareeda from his jail cell. “I don’t know whether Kuwaiti society is satisfied with the ruling of the judiciary or not. But it is in the hands of the Emir.”