Adnan Khashoggi – The One Who Dared To Dream

Portrait, legacy, the Paris days and an interview with his grandson Spartan, who spoke publicly about his grandfather for the first time. In addition, take a look at Khashoggi’s never-before-published photographs.

If the Russian Basil Zakharov was the richest man in the world and the largest arms dealer in the first half of the 20th century. In the second half that was Adnan Kashogi, taking the title from Zakharov. Khashoggi ’s life reads like something out of A Thousand and One Nights. He was never officially confirmed as one of the richest people in the world but his way of life convinced many that he was. The rumor in the 1980s was that his wealth 

Khashoggi’s multinational corporation, Triad, was one of the most powerful companies in the world. He linked Saudi Arabia with the West and saved the US military giant, Lockheed Martin, from bankruptcy. He was involved in the Iran-Contra affair as a key figure in the exchange of weapons for hostages, and was arrested in 1988 in Geneva on the suspicion he was concealing funds for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos who had defrauded the Philippines for some 150 million Euro.

The Triad Corporation

On top of ten private planes, he also owned three super-yachts – Mohammadia, Khalida, and Nabila, named after his children. The last, almost 90 meter-long yacht, was bought by none other than Donald Trump, who renamed it into Trump Princess. It was used during the filming of the James Bond film Never Say Never. The yacht was equipped to the nines – a pool, disco club, cinema, a helipad, and a 70-man crew.

Khashoggi was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 1935. His father was a personal doctor to Saudi King Ibn Saud, a position which came with many privileges. Attending an English-language university in Egypt, where the future elites of the Middle East were educated, Khashoggi studied alongside future kings of Iraq and Jordan – Faisal II and Hussein. Everything pointed to him studying petrochemistry and he majored in mining in Colorado, but at the age of 26 he got involved in the arms business – a decision which will eventually lead him to the front page of the Time magazine.

In business, he relied on a typical Arab-Islamic mix of cunning, loyalty, risk, and generosity. Business, love, diplomacy, all in one. He did not accept the then-typical methods of business and connections, so he became an international symbol of bringing people together, the most successful businessmen and beautiful women.

Jovan Matovic, Lieutenant General and banker, led the efforts to create a programme for airplane manufacturing, and he also chaired a commission for military and technical cooperation with a number of countries. He had visited over 60 of them, directly working with heads of state and government. He would run into Khashoggi in business meetings in Italy, Monte Carlo, Cannes and Paris, but also Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Brijuni, and often in Belgrade.

According to the late Matovic, Khashoggi did not take much note of institutions and advisory groups, although he was always prepared to listen to what they had to say. He dealt with people on a personal level, very much an atypical administrator. For him, what mattered were people and he worked on instinct only.

The first meeting took place in the Yugoslavian capital in the 80s, initiated by the federal directorate which wanted to learn the secrets for conquering the international marked. Banks, military companies, and other important figures in Yugoslavia were also interested in contacting him. He arrived on his DC9 plane, and found accommodations in the 23 Uzicka Street, in the Federal Government villa.

How powerful Khashoggi was is obvious in the fact that he bought out Soviet debt to Yugoslavia, that Yugoslavia would make an arms delivery treaty with the USSR. After the negotiations in Belgrade, our delegation met with Khashoggi in the Spanish city of Marbella. Khashoggi welcomed them to his enormous house, some 15 kilometres outside the city.

Khashoggi birthday party in Marbella

The first thing that our delegation led by Matovic could see was a huge gate, like the one in the Buckingham Palace, and behind it stretched a 900-hectare property. On the one side is a stable of thoroughbred Arabian horses, on the other a heliport, and in the middle Khashoggi and his wife Lamia, one of the most beautiful women in the world at the time, who was called Laura Biancolini before converting to Islam.

Inside, the walls are covered with his photographs with famous and powerful people, Reagan, Pope Wojtyla, Kissinger, Nixon. Khashoggi used to change his clothes several times during the day, depending on whom he met. Arabian gabay for the Middle East, western suits with herringbone pattern for magnates from America and Europe.

Unlike today’s highly secretive conception of the arms trade, every step was recorded in the former Yugoslavia, which made business far more transparent, but not completely public of course. Hence, many high-ranking officials did not start building castles after the end of their careers. In addition to control, there was a serious business morale. Matovic’s documents confirms that.

The beginning of the cooperation was crowned with Adnan’s invitation to celebrate his 53rd birthday. The degree of eccentricity is clearly visible from the photos.

The gala evening has a touch of modesty when it comes to Khashoggi. A triumphal arch of flowers, a swimming pool, red carpets, Lamia in a Saint Laurent dress that cost „trivial“ $100,000, and on which a label was sewn: „In memory of Van Gogh’s painting Iris“. It’s no secret that Khashoggi’s day cost around $ 250,000, so the nickname „The Great Gatsby of the Middle East“ was not at all pompous.

Lamia, beautiful as a goddess, dressed as a princess, or Marie Antoinette, with diamonds and rubies. The birthday was attended by movie star George Hamilton (from whom Kashogi’s daughter Nabila later bought a house in Beverly Hills for $7 million), Prince Ferdinand von Bismarck, his first wife Soraya, in the company of an Arab prince, whom Matovic wanted to meet for the sake of arms sales.

But there was only one small problem. All the princes were placed on one part of the podium. Since Matovic did not belong to the aristocracy, he asked the head of his protocol, Toza, to present him half jokingly, half in reality as Prince of Miljevina (where he was born) and Marquis of Herzegovina in the rank of lieutenant general of the Yugoslav army. In that way, he still spent the evening with the most powerful people in the world, as a representative of a small country. And not only that, he eventually sold the weapon to the Arab prince.

Second time in Marbella, mystery of clairvoyant Hindu solved

The last time the delegation was with Matovic was in this fashionable summer resort in 1988, where, after visiting the Gibraltar, they were invited to celebrate the New Year’s Eve. The Yugoslavs, as people, had an honorary place, because they certainly could not achieve that with their status and money among the richest people on the planet. That year, Saudi King Fahd came to Marbella for the first time and built a mosque there, designed by Kavro.

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Then, Khashoggi revealed to them that in one part of his palace there was a living Hindu, Swaili Maharaj, a prophet, when they considered him a saint and a psychic. This soon became crystal clear to Matovic, as he approached him and told him two things that only he knew: „In all the matters in which you did not obey your wife, you were wrong not to, correct that.“ The second thing he said was: „You will live to be about 88.“ He guessed everything.

When the delegation returned to Belgrade, Matovic told everything to Branko Mikulic, the president of the Federal Executive Council, who said that they „brought that saint to Belgrade,“ which was true. He told Matovic in confidence that Mikulic would not be in that position for long and that he would not live long. Matovic never told him that, but the prophet’s words were nothing but prophetic.

Later, Zeljko Kristofic, a mutual friend of Matovic and Khashoggi, said that the Maharaja foretold the fate of Nixon, Mubarak, the Saudi king, Francois Mitterrand and others. He prophesied everything to everyone exactly as it happened, and after that, Khashoggi brought him to his residence and he did not start any business without consulting him.

Perhaps a clairvoyant was the missing x factor necessary for our arms trade to reach the heights of Khashoggi – whom Donald Trump called „a great broker but a bad businessman and investor.“

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Meeting in Brijuni, Baden Baden and Mobutu Sese Seko

The Brijuni meeting with Kashoggi in 1987 was interesting because he was interested in turning a part of Brijuni into a luxury casino, so a year later he met with Mikulic, who hosted him in Sarajevo, Dubrovnik and Brijuni, and came with his yacht, Khalidia.

When he saw the Vanga island, he said: „I have seen many royal resorts, but such beauty and luxury is nowhere else to be found“, so he asked our management to recommend experts who were in charge of taking care of the residence, so that they could tend to his parks and villas, 12 of them all over the world, scattered from Jeddah, Riyadh, to Geneva and Florida. Most of those employed, mainly already retired, thanked him for the offer, holding their glass of wine, with a smile on their faces.


At the meeting in Baden Baden, not far from the Black Forest under which the Danube springs, Kashoggi introduced the business world of Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Peru and Libya to Yugoslavia.

The deal with Zaire and the meeting with Mobutu in Monte Carlo was also organized by Kashoggi. “Luxury residences are common in Monte Carlo, but Mobutu’s… I compared that splendour to the lives of people in Zaire. I am convinced that there is no ideology that could equalize the living conditions among people. Everything a man tailors, he tailors it to himself, and sews a suit for himself,“ Matovic said.

Another interesting detail could be seen at the meeting in Cannes, where a plan was discussed to establish a joint company in Yugoslavia from the existing companies Geneks, SCT Ljubljana, Energoinvest. During lunch in the richly decorated salon of his house overlooking the sea, he got a call from Paris, Adnan apologized and immediately flew to Charles de Gaulle. He returned after three hours, had dinner, and after 45 minutes was already on a plane to Rome. Tony Parsons said that „time is the most expensive thing in the world“ for a reason.

Paris days with his grandson Spartan

I spoke with his his grandson Spartan, and he recalled a number of interesting details for the first time. The younger Khashoggi is a classical pianist (especially the performances of Maurice Ravel), having inherited his love of music from his grandfather, and he lives in Los Angeles. He is planning to start work on his first movie in Italy.

Adnan Khashoggi spent the last few years of his live with his grandson in Monte Carlo and Paris. “There are so many intimate memories, stories. We ate lunch and dinner together almost every day. He was my best friend. In those years he was suffering from Parkinson’s and I had to be with him, just the two of use for two full years. I hope to make a movie about our days in Paris,” Spartan said. He added that they couldn’t step out onto the street without someone coming up to Adnan to say hello.

“He was the first Arab to appear in the West, in Marbella, who was that successful. When we buried him Medina, I went back to London and I was approached by a young Kuwaiti who recognized me and told me that every Arab knows a story about my grandfather. That made him the Great Gatsby of that part of the world, larger than life,” Spartan said.

According to Spartan, Adnan wanted to live out his final days in Paris. During a vacation in Monaco, the family asked him if he wanted to live in Rome, Monte Carlo or London. He just said: Paris, that’s my kind of town.

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“He was grateful for his family, children, friends. Those relationships meant more than money and fame to him. Jamal, a family friend and successful businessman in Lebanon, came to the Khashoggi house in Cannes for the first time as a kid. He told me that Adnan gave him a lot of attention and personally said goodbye when he was leaving even though he was nobody then. He didn’t have to do that and that shows how important relationship were to him even when he didn’t see interest in them. I never asked him if he regretted anything because his life was so intense, enjoying every moment, that the question was superfluous,” Spartan said.

He said that Adnan was unconditionally generous. “I remember him giving money to a lot of people who would repay him years later and he would just ask – what’s this? That was special to me, the kid from the desert, something he created. Many people abused this. He secretly built some 500 mosques from Morocco to Lebanon to Saudi Arabia and never said anything in public,” he added.

Adnan and Spartan had a routine in Paris. They drank tea with his friends at the Hotel George V, Bristol (where they lived for some time) and the Rasputin where he met former US President Richard Nixon.

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“He took me and my friends to dinner and when they were finished he would say let’s go to the Lido or Rasputin. I would laugh and say, grandfather you have to sleep.

“He would always eat (the Lebanese specialty) Za’atar with olive oil and bread and once a week we would eat pasta. He probably drank alcohol when we lived in Cannes but I can only remember him drinking water at that time,” Spartan said.

Towards the end, Khashoggi ’s wealth was slowly dissipating for whatever reason but his myth was not ruined. The Khashoggi complex in Utah worth almost half a billion Dollars was put up for sale, Donald Trump bought the yacht Nabila for 30 million Dollars even though it was worth 70 million. A journalist from Vanity Fair magazine, before publishing an article about the “fall of Khashoggi”, called his number one man of trust, Robert Sheikhin, who quite critically wanted to warn of any negative connotations and conclusions in the future text, so he defiantly stood behind his friend: “He dreamed the dreams no one dared dream”. And turned them into reality.

Plain and simple. Many will continue to dream, eventually to dare as well, but for vast majority of them, it will end up, there, unfortunately, just on dreaming.

Pavle Jakšić

📷: Vitraž

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About the author
Osnivač i urednik Vitraža. Beograđanin. Kritičar malograđanštine i površnosti. Idealista.
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