Prince Charles faced mounting pressure to cut ties with his closest aide after extraordinary allegations that he offered to help secure a knighthood for a Saudi tycoon.
Michael Fawcett – Charles’s former valet – was forced to step down as chief of the Prince’s Foundation at the weekend amid a string of claims about his conduct while running the charity.
It was alleged that Mr Fawcett, 58, had offered to ‘support’ a major Saudi donor to Charles’s charities – Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz – in his efforts to secure both an honour and British citizenship.
Mr Fawcett – at his own suggestion – has agreed to ‘temporarily’ step down from his £95,000-a-year role with the Foundation while an investigation is carried out
A letter on headed notepaper made clear that Mr Fawcett was prepared to assist in bumping up the tycoon’s honorary CBE to a knighthood.
Dr bin Mahfouz has been one of the most prolific donors to the prince’s charities, giving more than £1.5million to help fund renovations of residences used by Charles.
The prince is understood to have ‘known nothing’ of either Mr Fawcett’s letter or of emails from fixers about the prospect of an honour.
Indeed, the Mail understands that he was ‘so surprised’ by the claims that he ‘couldn’t believe them’ at first.
However, the revelations in The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Times represented the third time the future king has found himself facing a scandal involving Mr Fawcett – who has twice before been forced to resign from royal service.
Mr Fawcett – at his own suggestion – has agreed to ‘temporarily’ step down from his £95,000-a-year role with the Foundation while an investigation is carried out. The future king, crucially, is said to be ‘supportive’ of this.
But last night he faced pressure to finally cut ties with his former valet if allegations of wrongdoing are found to be proven, with one source suggesting there should be a ‘timely parting of ways’.
The Prince’s Foundation is also facing the threat of a possible police inquiry.
Former minister Norman Baker, a respected author on royal finances, said the sale of honours was an offence and he would be writing to Met Commissioner Cressida Dick today to ask her to investigate.
The prince is understood to have ‘known nothing’ of either Mr Fawcett’s letter or of emails from fixers about the prospect of an honour
He said: ‘The letter from Michael Fawcett seems to show there is a prima facie link being made between the donor getting an honour for money coming into Prince Charles’s charity, which is an offence.’
Mr Baker questioned whether an internal inquiry by the charity would be conducted with significant rigour, given Mr Fawcett’s elevated position.
Mr Fawcett has twice bounced back from scandals – once over bullying claims and again over the sale of royal gifts – because of the prince’s reliance on him.
Charles, who prides loyalty and discretion above anything, once said he could ‘manage without just about anyone, except for Michael’.
One source said: ‘What we have seen so far is the tip of the iceberg. Just because these are charities championed by the Prince of Wales doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be subject to the same checks, balances and scrutiny as any other charity.’
Last week the Prince’s Foundation launched an investigation following other ‘cash for access’ claims. Society fixer Michael Wynne-Parker was accused of offering a dinner with Charles and an overnight stay at Dumfries House for £100,000. Mr Wynne-Parker, an adviser to Dr bin Mahfouz, allegedly wrote an email saying fixers would pocket up to 25 per cent of the fees.
Last night the Prince’s Foundation said it had beefed up its investigation by arranging for a senior forensic accountant from a ‘big four’ firm to carry out an independent review
But the latest disclosures pose far more serious questions about the conduct of those close to the prince.
They will also prompt renewed scrutiny of the honours system and whether it is open to monetary influence.
Last night the Prince’s Foundation said it had beefed up its investigation by arranging for a senior forensic accountant from a ‘big four’ firm to carry out an independent review.
The bombshell letter was allegedly written by Mr Fawcett on August 18, 2017, to Dr bin Mahfouz’s aide Busief Lamlum.
It says: ‘In light of the ongoing and most recent generosity of His Excellency… I am happy to confirm to you, in confidence, that we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for Citizenship. I can further confirm that we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honour from Honorary CBE to that of KBE in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee.’
The letter makes no effort to disguise that support for any knighthood and citizenship application depends on Dr bin Mahfouz’s financial support.
Writing in his then capacity as chief executive of the Dumfries House Trust, Mr Fawcett added: ‘I hope that this confirmation is sufficient in allowing us to go forward.’
A year later, Mr Fawcett was put in charge of Charles’s entire charitable empire as chief executive of the Foundation.
One of his main tasks was securing donations for Dumfries House, which Charles saved for the nation in 2007 – in part through a £20million loan from his then charitable trust.
Last night Clarence House said it was taking the matter ‘very seriously’. Mr Fawcett declined to comment.
A spokesman for Dr bin Mahfouz said he had ‘not had personal or direct communication to either request, influence or make any arrangements regarding citizenship or knighthood with Mr Fawcett, or anyone connected to HRH The Prince of Wales or the Prince’s Foundation’.