Khashoggi, the CIA and other untold stories of the Mt Kenya Safari Club

By John Kamau

On July 26, 1977, Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi bought the Mt Kenya Safari Club from its Mafia-linked owner, Ray Ryan – whom we featured here two weeks ago. Eighty-Four days after Ryan had pocketed his fortune, on October 18, 1977, he was blown up in a car bomb in Evansville, Indiana. While the masterminds have never been found — it was widely believed that Ryan was killed by the same Chicago gang that he courted to survive in the bowels of sleaze, drugs and gambling.

This story — demanded by many of my readers — is a follow-up to the untold story of Mt Kenya Safari Club, the post-independent Kenya version of the colonial “Happy Valley”.

With the Khashoggi sale concluded in 1977, the Mt Kenya Safari Club was now in the hands of a man who was friendly to the American CIA and whom the Washington Post had aptly described as ‘money-mover and five-star fixer’.

But besides being a broker, the billionaire Khashoggi was many things in one package of sleaze. He could easily spend $250,000 (Sh25 million) a day to finance his dazzling parties with Hollywood’s elite — including Elizabeth Taylor — and his bevy of young mistresses always in tow. All these, and his DC-8 jet and a yacht, were all underwritten by the commissions he got from the international weapons trade, thanks to the Cold War and the Arab crisis.

Khashoggi had made a fortune from these political problems by brokering arms sales between military firm Lockheed and the Saudi Government. It was once reported that between 1970 and 1975, just about the time he invested some of his ‘loose change’ in Kenya, he had earned about $106 million (Sh12 billion). Finally, the man’s fortune rose to $4 billion (Sh460 billion) and he was touted as the richest weapon’s dealer on earth.

Hollywood stars


With Ryan, the previous owner of the Mt Kenya Safari Club, hobnobbing with some of the Hollywood stars, and having lured big-screen star William Holden to become a partner in the investment, and with Khashoggi’s dalliance with Elizabeth Taylor, their paths crossed.

They met, and the Saudi tycoon arrived in Nanyuki in 1975 to see Ryan’s property. He not only fell in love with the property, the same way Ryan had, but dreamed that one day, it would be one of his many bolt-holes. His other properties were in London, Madrid, Marbella, and Cannes, it was claimed that he had 100 limousines.

Ryan and Khashoggi struck a report. They both loved the lavish and hedonistic life. cigars Girls. Fine wine. And they were addicted to gambling.

What was not known — perhaps to Ryan — was that Khashoggi was also working with the CIA — at least with Miles Copeland, the man who once complained that the CIA was not assassinating enough anti-American leaders and overthrowing anti-American governments.

By the time Khashoggi visited Mt Kenya Safari Club, it was more than a club. It was slowly becoming the hub of private Western intelligence operatives — who called themselves the “Safari Club”. Their agenda was to tame the influence of the Soviet Union in Africa and Khashoggi was part of the group. While the US was not directly involved in activities of the “Safari Club”, its Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, is said to have given the group his tacit approval.

Those were the circles within which Khashoggi operated.

As the money flowed, and at a time when Saudi petrodollar millionaires were emerging, Khashoggi surprised many in the 60s when he married English socialite Sandra Daly. Sandra would later convert to Islam and adopt the name Soraya. They married in 1961, but the marriage ended in 1974. One of Soraya’s children, Petrina, was sired by disgraced Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken.

That revelation in 1999, when Petrina was 18, was fodder for British tabloids and came at a time when the Tory Cabinet minister was charged with perjury in a case where he had sued a British newspaper that had alleged that Aitken used to procure prostitutes for Arab businessmen when he served as Margaret Thatcher’s Minister for Defense Procurement.

That affair was taking place just about the time Khashoggi was buying the club. It is claimed — at least by one biographer — that Khashoggi bought Mt Kenya Safari Club without telling Soraya. He later gave it to his son, Khalid, who was turning 21, as a birthday gift.

Celebrate birthdays

Khashoggi knew how to celebrate birthdays. One writer recalled how Khashoggi threw “for his 50th birthday in 1985, a five-day bacchanal at his retreat in southern Spain. The cake was topped by a spun-sugar crown modeled after one worn by France’s Sun King, Louis XIV, and guests roamed the grounds with flutes of Moët Champagne among imported African wildlife.”

The said wildlife came from his other property, Ol Pejeta in Laikipia – which was the game hunting ground for the world’s millionaires, even though hunting was banned in Kenya.

What is interesting is that negotiations for the purchase of the Mt Kenya Safari Club were brokered by Edward K Moss, who according to Peter Scott, in the book American Deep State, was a CIA operative doubling as Khashoggi’s public relations manager.

According to declassified CIA records, Moss was the same man who was used by the CIA in November 1962 to try and get rid of Cuban President Fidel Castro. It was known that Moss’s mistress, Julia Cellini, was the sister to Dino Cellini who was running some casinos in Havana on behalf of the Italian Mafia in 1950s and 60s.

Both Julia and her brother were known to procure prostitutes for the high society, and, thus, Moss came in handy as Khashoggi’s “public relations” person, for he wanted to use sex to win over US executives.

When Khashoggi was invited in September 1975 by the US House of Representatives to explain the kind of business that he does to be receiving upwards of $100 million, it was Moss who appeared on his behalf — an indicator of the central role he played.

Thus, the acquisition of Mt Kenya Safari Club would serve part of the purpose, since it was hidden from any public and tabloid journalists.

Moss was appointed the Mt Kenya Safari Club general manager and was nicknamed Bwana Commander, according to one of the club’s publications. But Mt Kenya Safari Club was not the only place for such escapades.

“The bill for the madam who supplied girls en masse to his yacht in the Mediterranean ran to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to Peter Scott in the book The Deep State. So murky was this world of politics, sex, and business that when Gary Hart decided to run for the US presidency in 1987, one of the Khashoggi prostitutes emerged and destroyed his candidature. As Vanity Fair wrote after that episode, the procuring was big and strict business: “According to one procurer, recruitment standards for party girls were strict. They had to be between the ages of 18 and 24, classy and elegant, capable of making conversation, and very, very clean, with just the right combination of innocence and sexiness.”

Ronald Kessler, Khashoggi’s biographer, says that in some of the outings and as the billionaire gambled with thousand-dollar chips, some of the girls would be seen sniffing cocaine. That was mostly in Las Vegas; but whether Mt Kenya Safari Club was spared those vices is not known. However, it explains why Khashoggi’s entourage to Nanyuki always consisted of young girls, either hosted at the Mt Kenya Safari Club or at Ol Pejeta.

“Khashoggi’s lifestyle was nomadic … he would drop down to Nairobi without warning with his entourage (and) change to a number of smaller planes depending on the number of retainers … at one particular members luncheon Khashoggi arrived unannounced in a helicopter, with six leggy blondes in tow, all dressed in immaculate khaki safari suits. He insisted they follow behind him, leapfrogging one another into the rose garden … on another occasion Khashoggi landed with a belly dancer and Egyptian orchestra…,” writes Lucinda De Laroque in the book Paradise Found.

During the Njonjo Commission of Inquiry, it was alleged that Khashoggi had wanted to build an airstrip in Nanyuki that could land a Boeing 747. This was turned down since it was close to the Nanyuki airbase.

Nanyuki was always full of drama with these Khashoggi girls: “(He) would take them to the boutique, turn to the girls, who by now resembled a pack of drooling bloodhounds, and instructed them that they had five minutes. A mad scramble ensued as the girls leapt around clutching and grabbing an assortment of gifts … as if their acquisition was a matter of life and death.”

As scandals relating to his excesses started to emerge — and Charles Njonjo’s star waned — Khashoggi found little comfort in Kenya. Njonjo was one of the directors at Ol Pejeta and as his name featured prominently in the inquiry, Khashoggi kept off Kenya.

Rather than see the club fall, it was sold in September 1985 to yet another controversial figure, Tiny Rowland — once accused by Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister, as being “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. As chairman of Lonrho, Rowland courted African dictators to survive and make money, and as his empire started to collapse — he decided to sell the club. The era of Lonrho was not as colourful, as focus turned to his other scandals that included an attempt to grab part of Uhuru Park.

From Ryan to Rowland, the Mt Kenya Safari Club has enough stories.

[email protected] @johnkamau1

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