DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued a number of royal decrees, including naming a young prince who is close to his son and heir as head of a newly established Culture Ministry early Saturday.
The new Minister of Culture, Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, was identified last year by the New York Times as the mystery buyer of a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus, the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.
The Wall Street Journal reported the prince had acted as a proxy for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he purchased the "Salvator Mundi" painting. The Saudi Embassy in Washington said Prince Bader purchased the painting on behalf of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum in the neighboring United Arab Emirates.
Prince Bader is a contemporary of the 32-year-old crown prince and the two attended King Saud University in Riyadh around the same time, according to the New York Times. In 2015, Prince Bader was appointed as chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which publishes major Arabic newspapers and which had long been under the control of King Salman's branch of the family.
In another decree early Saturday, the king relieved Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Al Sheikh from his longtime post as head of the Islamic Affairs Ministry. He had served in the post for nearly 20 years until 2014, was replaced for three months and then re-appointed in 2015.
Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Sheikh, another member of the Al Sheikh family, was appointed to succeed him.
He previously served as head of Saudi Arabia's morality policy, known as the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. In an interview with the Saudi-run Arab News in 2012, he was quoted as saying he did not support hard-line views on gender mixing. He said it was permissible for unrelated men and women to interact under certain conditions so long as they are not in seclusion. He also supported a decision to allow women to work in lingerie and cosmetic stores, and supports a ban on the marriage of minors.
The Al Sheikh family have a long and close history with the ruling Al Saud family. They are descendants of Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul-Wahhab, whose ultraconservative teachings of Islam in the 18th century are widely referred to as "Wahhabism" in his name.
Among other key changes, the king named Ahmed bin Sulaiman bin Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi as minister of labor. He is a well-known Saudi businessman whose billionaire father oversees Al Rajhi Bank and the Al Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation.
In other decrees, King Salman renamed several natural reserves after deceased Saudi clerics and royal family members from the first Saudi state of the early 19th century. He renamed three other reserves after his late father, King Abdulaziz, himself, and his son, the crown prince.