Ex-Rogue Billionaire Wants To Be Your Mr. Fix-It
On Saturday the New York Times checked in with a long-forgotten ’80’s icon of scandal and unseemliness, Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Mr. Khashoggi, perhaps best known for his key role brokering the Iran-Contra affair, has been laying low for the past couple decades after a few too many tangles in dirty deals (including the Marcos family’s looting the Philipine government) tarnished his reputation for being, well, untouchable. That, plus an outrageous appetite for the good life- yachts, jets, parties, prostitutes- which left the once-touted “Richest Man in the World” buried him in debt.
Why is he staging a comeback? In cynical (brilliant) Nick Naylor-esque fashion, Khashoggi knows his skills schmoozing the world’s rich and powerful are as relevant and in-demand as ever.
After a lifetime spent using his connections to make deals for himself, he is working as a consultant, selling his connections.
Instead of commissions he gets “incentive pay.” He flies commercial now (at his clients’ expense), which is a big change for a man who once had his own DC-8, and he lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the only property he still owned after the collapse of his empire. But he is far from broke, or at least manages to appear far from broke, which has always been the magic of Mr. Khashoggi.
Mr. Khashoggi’s new “career” is of course no different than what he was doing 20 or 30 years ago. Main difference is his “fees” are likely smaller, the jobs are likely smaller (a big time client would fly him private) and his chances of being celebrated by mainstream media are miniscule. But there’s something almost quaint about this fallen billionaire’s attempt to retake the limelight. His affectations of wealth, his apparent cluelessness about his own wrongdoing and the mere fact that he’s a scotch-swilling Saudi for whom religion is immaterial is a refreshing change-up in the news cycle out of the Middle East. I’m not cheering for Mr. Khashoggi – age seems to have blunted his mental acuity and I’m not a fan of the weapons trade – but watching him restore his image and possibly, his fortune, has the makings of a good movie.