Kamal Adham

Saudi Arabian secret intelligence chief who paid Sadat's Egypt to expel thousands of Soviet personnel

KAMAL ADHAM, who has died in Cairo aged 71, was the chief of Saudi Arabia's equivalent of MI6 under King Faisal and later King Khaled.

As external intelligence chief from 1964, under King Faisal, Adham played a vital role in establishing Saudi Arabia's place in international affairs. A British-educated Anglophile, he was the motive force behind Saudi Arabia's renewal of relations with Britain, which had reached a low point in 1955 over the Buraimi oasis affair, a dispute over oil-bearing desert territory near what is now northern Oman.

In the 1960s he helped to steer the kingdom safely through a dangerous encounter with Nasser's forces in Yemen, and in 1972 persuaded Sadat to expel Soviet military advisers.

Kamal Adham was born in Mecca, in the Hijaz region of Arabia, in 1928 to an Albanian Muslim family that had come to the holy city on pilgrimage and settled as merchants, at a time when both Albania and the Hijaz were part of the Ottoman empire. His European genes made him a rare example of a Saudi citizen with fair hair.

He was educated at Victoria College, Alexandria, the "Egyptian Harrow", and then at Trinity College, Cambridge, although he did not stay long enough to take a degree.

By this time the path of his life was clear. His elder half-sister, Iffat, had become the third wife of Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz, a powerful prince even before he became king. In the dynastic power structure of Saudi Arabia, Adham was well positioned for a career of political influence and lucrative commerce.

His cosmopolitan outlook and shrewdness were an asset to the king. The Hijaz had been absorbed into the Saudi state in 1925, and provided a useful reservoir of talent for the kingdom's rulers, who came from the isolated interior. Through friendship and kinship Adham developed a close bond with Faisal. Faisal's sons were Adham's nephews, and the boys spent much of their time in Adham's house. He guided their education and careers.

In the 1950s Saudi Arabia was threatened by the aggressive policies of President Nasser of Egypt, who sought to export his brand of radical Arab nationalism across the Arab world, particularly after the Suez crisis.

By the early 1960s, Saudi Arabia found itself fighting a proxy war with Egypt in the green hills of Yemen, on Saudi Arabia's southern border. With British help, Saudi Arabia supported the royalist government, while Egypt backed the republican rebels. Adham led the intelligence front in this war through the new external intelligence service which he headed.

The service was for practical purposes run from Adham's house in Jeddah, well-equipped with communications equipment. Adham preferred to work from home where he could sleep until noon and work into the night. In March 1965 he held a secret conference of Yemeni republicans on the formation of a compromise regime.

In 1970, when Anwar Sadat replaced Nasser as Egyptian leader, Adham led the diplomatic effort to restore relations with Egypt. His role was always discreet; he possessed infinite political cunning and was careful never to step into the political spotlight. When Sadat was vice-president, Adham provided him with an income from Saudi funds. Later, he negotiated hundreds of millions of dollars in Saudi subsidies in return for Sadat's decision to expel 15,000 Soviet military advisers in 1972. Adham worked closely with the CIA from this time.

The turning point in his career came in 1979, when he was publicly sacked as intelligence chief by Crown Prince Fahd, who was then running Saudi Arabia as king in all but name. Fahd was said to dislike men who were too competent.

The reason given for Adham's dismissal was his failure to give warning of Sadat's last act of political drama: his visit to Jerusalem to address the Israeli Knesset, and the subsequent Camp David agreement. In fact, Adham had liaised between the United States and Sadat in negotiating the agreement.

His days of political influence over, Adham based himself mostly in London and dedicated himself to his business interests, which culminated disastrously in the BCCI affair.

Adham was already wealthy. It was easy for a man in his position to make a fortune, mainly by brokering commercial deals between Saudi buyers and Western vendors attracted by the country's oil-fuelled economy. Then Adham sets his sights on even bigger deals, but his poor judgment in business contrasted with the shrewdness he had shown as Faisal's right-hand man.

In 1977, Adham was one of a group of investors in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International who tried to buy an American bank using an American front-man, in violation of American banking laws. The attempt failed, but Adham and fellow investors later tried to take over an even larger bank, the First American Bank of Washington, DC. Adham's ambition, even if vague and ill-judged, was to acquire influence in America and Europe through ownership of large financial institutions.

BCCI grew into a global hydra and Adham was entangled in it. He borrowed $313 million from BCCI on dubious terms. After criminal dealings involving BCCI were uncovered by the US District Attorney in New York, Adham was one of nine people barred by the Federal Reserve from any involvement in a US banking organisation.

Announcing the conclusion of his investigation, the US District Attorney Robert Morganthau said: "BCCI was operated as a corrupt criminal organisation throughout its 19 year history."

In 1992, Adham avoided imprisonment in a plea bargain in which he agreed to repay $100 million.

Kamal Adham married in 1957 and had three sons and a daughter.