Jordan ex-royal court chief faces trial over alleged monarchy plot

·2-min read
General view showing empty streets, during the nationwide curfew for two days, amid fears of a rising number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Amman

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) -Jordan's military court will start the trial next week of a former royal court chief and a minor royal on charges of agitating to destabilise the monarchy, state media said on Sunday.

Prosecutors last week referred to court the case of Bassem Awadallah, an ex-royal court chief and finance minister who played a big role in the drive to liberalise Jordan's economy, and Sherif Hassan Zaid, a distant relative of King Abdullah.

They were arrested in early April when former heir to the throne Prince Hamza was placed under house arrest over allegations that he had liaised with foreign parties over a plot to destabilise Jordan, a close U.S. ally in the Middle East.

State media said Awadallah and Zaid were formally charged with agitating to undermine the kingdom's political system and acts that threaten public security and sowing sedition. The two charges carry up to 30 years in prison, judicial sources said.

Proceedings against Prince Hamza, who along with Awadallah had been under investigation for some time, were later dropped after he pledged allegiance to King Abdullah.

A charge list published in state media said Hamza, the half brother of King Abdallah who was stripped of his title nearly two decades ago, gave his blessing to Awadallah to lobby in Western capitals and Riyadh in his goal to accede to the throne.

Awadallah is among the closest economic advisers to Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a matter that complicated the judicial investigations, according to officials familiar with the affair.

Amman turned down Riyadh's request to hand him over, they added, without elaborating.

King Abdullah said after the affair came to light that sedition had been quashed, describing it as the most painful" because it came from both inside the royal family and outside it."

The intrigue exposed the first serious rift within Jordan's ruling Hashemite family in many years and shook the image of the country as an island of stability in an unpredictable region.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-KhalidiEditing by David Goodman, Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

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