Nobody knows better than attorney Marvin Mitchelson: When it rains dinars, it pours. One day late last month he announced that his client Soraya Khashoggi had settled her $2.5 billion divorce action against Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi for an undisclosed sum. (“I won’t say how much,” beamed the L.A. lawyer, “but you see I’m smiling.”) On the same day yet another disgruntled Western wife of a wealthy Arab hired Mitchelson to handle the biggest divorce case of his—or anybody’s—career. Belgian-born Dena Al-Fassi, 23, is demanding that Sheik Mohammad Al-Fassi, 28, give her half his estimated $6 billion assets under California’s community property statute.
Muslim law allows a man up to four wives at a time. But Sheika Dena is charging her husband with bigamy under state law on grounds that after she married him in a Muslim ceremony at L.A.’s Arab Community Center seven years ago, he took two more wives. In 1978 he wed aspiring American actress Victoria Sosa, now 28, at elegant Perino’s Restaurant in L.A., and in London two years later he added an 18-year-old Saudi beauty identified only as Aptisam. (Dena and Mitchelson do not know her maiden name.) For his second and third wives, Al-Fassi apparently did not bother to apply for local marriage licenses.
This week there will be a court hearing in L.A. on Dena’s request for custody of their four children. They are currently living with the sheik and his two other spouses in the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., but Mitchelson says he fears that Al-Fassi may take the kids back to Jedda before the hearing. Dena is also requesting $26,500 a month in temporary support payments—a modest sum compared to her husband’s estimated monthly living expenses of $2,874,000.
It isn’t the first time Al-Fassi, whose brother-in-law Prince Turki ibn Abdul Aziz is a full brother to Saudi Crown Prince Fahd, has made news. In 1978 Al-Fassi paid $2.4 million for a Beverly Hills mansion and then turned it into a gaudy local attraction by painting the 38-room house lime-green and making the statuary on the grounds sexually explicit with colored nipples, pubic hair and worse. “We just wanted to make the place more beautiful,” Dena explained. The interior was no less garish, featuring erotic wall hangings (in one panel Dena was being caressed by a winged man, who did not look like the sheik), pornographic posters in a powder room, a $65,000 Italian bathtub in the shape of a seashell, and a disco.
Dena met and married Al-Fassi while working as a clerk at her father’s export-import boutique in London. Though she was only 15, her parents did not object strenuously when she embraced the Muslim religion. Since the Al-Fassi Trading Company, a worldwide dealer in pharmaceuticals, is based in L.A., the couple called their Sunset Boulevard eyesore home. But in fact they spent most of their time globe-hopping in one of the royal family’s jets or at the Saudi royal palace in Jedda. They were always surrounded by dozens of gun-toting retainers.
“I don’t know how she got away from him,” allows Al-Fassi’s former private secretary, Michael Core. Indeed, Dena says she was repeatedly threatened throughout their marriage. Last month she escaped from Al-Fassi’s entourage at the Diplomat Hotel by calling Mitchelson, who flew to Florida and brought her back to L.A. Before she fled, she says, she was held prisoner in a locked room on several occasions.
Dena is not the only Al-Fassi wife to complain. Three years ago in Beverly Hills, Victoria sued the sheik for $10 million, charging he had “bitten her about the entire body.” That suit was settled out of court and Victoria returned to Al-Fassi. Private secretary Core’s own $10 million suit against the sheik is still pending. He claims, among other things, that he became seriously ill while staying at the Jedda palace after being fed only table scraps. Two other Americans who served as governesses to Al-Fassi’s children are also seeking damages for being threatened and roughed up by Al-Fassi and his men.
Dena is hoping for a quick out-of-court settlement. But the one issue she claims she will not compromise on is custody of their natural sons, Turkei, 5, and Abdul, 3, and adopted children Hessha, 4, and Fhad, 2. “It’s unfortunate when money comes between people,” coos Dena. “Given a choice, I would take the children.” Core sympathizes with her: “Dena was married as a child and grew up. In the end it wasn’t worth it—not for love or money.”