Booze runs, pork smuggling, and a fixation on Shiites: More revelations from Saudi cables

WikiLeaks' publication of more than 60,000 Saudi documents has set pens racing across the Middle East with disclosures about the secretive Arab monarchy's foreign affairs. But lost amid the torrent of revelations are offbeat memos showing the underbelly of Riyadh's diplomacy, including candid accounts of booze runs and pork smuggling.

Among the revelations you may have missed:


It's illegal to drink, sell or possess alcohol in Saudi Arabia, which follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic law, but foreign embassy staffers took advantage of their diplomatic immunity to go on liquor runs to neighboring Bahrain, where the sale of alcohol is legal. Memos published by WikiLeaks describe their unsuccessful attempts to sneak the booze into the kingdom in amusing detail.

On Jan. 18, 2013, Saudi customs officials stopped a Mexican diplomat driving back from Bahrain with "several big suitcases" in his car trunk containing no fewer than 102 bottles of whisky and 48 cans of beer, according to one undated memo. On Feb. 2, 2012 an Azeri diplomat was stopped at customs with 28 bottles of whisky hidden in socks inside his car. That same day, customs officials stopped an Italian diplomat whose car had a taped-up hole cut into the back seat, according to two other Saudi memos.

Diplomats also sought to skirt Islam's prohibition of pork. A March 17, 2012 memo describes a Chinese diplomat's attempt to sneak 30 kilograms (about 65 pounds) of ham into the kingdom in the trunk of his car.



It comes as no surprise that Sunni Saudi Arabia, which views Shiite Iran as its greatest regional rival, would take an interest in the spread of Shiite Islam. But some observations go into a startling level of minutiae.

Saudi diplomats are careful to estimate, for example, how many Eritrean students are studying abroad in Iran (40) and the number of Shiite Muslims in Mauritania (50,000). They were also concerned when a public debate was held between Shiite and Sunni Muslims near the Philippines' Al-Dahab mosque in Manila. Even though Shiites make up less than 1 percent of the Muslim population in the Philippines, a memo dated Feb. 4, 2010 appears to express alarm that the religious minority's message "managed to get out of its secretive circle to the public."

"It is obsessive," said Toby Matthiesen, the author of a book about religious politics in Gulf Arab states and a research fellow at the University of Cambridge. "It proves the theory that Saudi foreign policy is at least in part sectarian and seeks to contain Shiism and not just Iran."



WikiLeaks' trove of Saudi diplomatic documents includes a large amount of bureaucratic documentation and sensitive personal information, including sick leave reports, death certificates and hospital records. One document included in the haul details a 17-year-old's treatment for life-threatening medical problems. Another is a report describing severe leg injuries suffered by a 24-year-old at King Khalid Hospital in northeastern Saudi Arabia. A third describes the proposed treatment for a child with encephalopathy in the Czech Republic.

Among the torrent of private information leaked by the website is Hillary Rodham Clinton's passport number, included in a memo concerning a March 2012 visit to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the documents.



Saudi Arabian officials in Washington and Riyadh have refused to respond to repeated questions from The Associated Press about the diplomatic cables and official statements urge citizens to ignore the revelations, warning that sharing the leaked documents could result in imprisonment.

But a memo addressed to a senior diplomat and dated Jan. 19, 2011 — several weeks after WikiLeaks rocked Washington with the release of thousands of U.S. State Department cables — suggests the Saudis sifted through the American documents and read them too.

"Attached for your attention is a translated report of the most important leaks issued by the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and consulate in Jeddah," the memo says.


Satter contributed from Istanbul.