- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 20, 2010

LONDON (AP) — A British court sentenced a Saudi prince to at least 20 years in prison Wednesday for beating and strangling one of his servants at a swank British hotel in a case that featured days of lurid testimony about their abusive relationship.

Justice David Bean sentenced Prince Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al Saud to a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 20 years for the brutal assault at the Landmark Hotel in London on Feb. 15. The sensational case featured CCTV images of the shaven-headed prince throwing a punch at his aide in a hotel elevator — the set piece in a prosecution case that said the suave playboy prince battered his lover in a rage following years of abuse.

“No one in this country is above the law,” Justice Bean said. “It would be wrong for me to sentence you either more severely or more leniently because of your membership of the Saudi royal family.”

The jury had deliberated just 95 minutes before returning its verdict. The prince was convicted of both murder and a second count of grievous bodily harm with intent relating to the attack in the elevator.

Prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw described a flamboyant lifestyle with a dashing prince who lived the luxury life — dining in fine restaurants and receiving erotic massages from a masseur who compared him to Hollywood actor Omar Sharif.

The prince’s attorneys attempted before the trial to stop evidence of his homosexuality from being made public.

“Beneath the surface this was a deeply abusive relationship which the defendant exploited for sadistic reasons, for his own personal gratification,” Mr. Laidlaw said. He described the assault leading to the aide’s death as being “a really terrible, a really brutal attack.”

Saud originally told police that he and Bandar Abdulaziz had been swigging champagne into the early hours of the morning, and that when he awoke at 3 p.m. he could not rouse Mr. Abdulaziz.

Jurors rejected a claim by his defense attorney, John Kelsey-Fry, that the prince was guilty only of manslaughter. Defense attorneys had attempted to shield the prince’s sexuality during the bail application process, but failed.

Since the prince’s arrest, Saudi officials have said nothing about the case, and Saudi newspapers and television have not even mentioned it, a sign of how embarrassing the trial and sentencing are for the royal family.

Media in the kingdom strictly avoid any discussion of the private lives of members of the royal family — particularly of anything that casts them in a negative light.

The prince’s grandfather is the half brother of the current king.

Britain has no prison transfer agreement with Saudi Arabia, so there is no possibility the prince could serve his sentence there.

Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this story.

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