As well as maintaining opulent lifestyles, the Saudi monarchy has been pumping its extensive wealth into fuelling the Middle East's wars.

Saudi Arabia's ruling royal family has a net worth of about $1.4 trillion, which is 16 times more than that of the British royal family.

The ruling monarchy draws most of its income from vast oil reserves that were founded 75 years ago, changing the country's fortune and making the House of Saud the richest family on earth.

According to the House of Saud, the wealth of $1.4 trillion belongs to nearly 15,000 royal family members who live in lavish palaces. State-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, which is among the world’s most valuable and profitable companies, constitutes the backbone of the sprawling royal family's fortune

The family is renowned for maintaining an enviable lifestyle, which has come under severe criticism on several occasions for being wastefully extravagant and full of pomposity. With the controversial elevation of Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) to the position of crown prince, the past few years have been rocky for the family. MBS arrested several of his family members, including his first cousins, in what appears to be a power struggle playing out along the margins of cruelty and cajolery mirroring the fictional book and TV series Game of Thrones. 

But the culture of extravagant and reckless spending thrives amidst the politics of ambition and vengeance. From spending hundreds of millions on lavish luxuries such as superyachts and private jets to fuelling wars in the Middle East, here's a glimpse of the ruling family’s life.

Unbridled luxury 

From gold-studded super yachts and private jets and palaces to furniture made of gold, the royal family even uses tissue paper plucked from gold-plated tissue dispensers.

In 2017, the 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, spent $450.3 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s 500-year-old painting ‘Salvator Mundi’ purchasing it through a proxy.

The painting
The painting "Salvator Mundi" by School of Leonardo da Vinci is pictured during a press visit of the "Leonardo da Vinci" exhibition to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of his death, at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, October 20, 2019. (Reuters)

The sale of the painting, which is also known as ‘Jesus Christ’ was a record for an art auction.

The Prince has paid over $300 million for the Chateau Louis XIV, located in France, called “the world’s most expensive home” by Fortune magazine.

The chateau has 10 bedrooms, indoor and outdoor pools together with a cinema, a wine cellar and a moat with transparent underwater chamber.

An aerial view of a luxurious private house in Louveciennes, near Paris July 14, 2011.
An aerial view of a luxurious private house in Louveciennes, near Paris July 14, 2011. (Reuters)

“I'm a rich person and not a poor person. I'm not Gandhi or Mandela. I'm a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia,” MBS told CBS over his spending and personal life.

The crown prince is reportedly trying to buy a football club, which is believed to be Newcastle United, in the Premier League after failing to acquire Manchester United. Many human rights organisations have reached out to the Premier League, insisting it to block the sale of any English club to the crown prince, citing his poor human rights record, including the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

World’s biggest arms buyer 

Saudi Arabia is by far “the largest military spender” in the Middle East according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). It is also known as the biggest arms importer in the world, spending tens of billion dollars.

Saudi rulers spent an estimated total of $67.6 billion in 2018 where the country led a coalition which is fuelling an ongoing civil war in Yemen.

Fuelling war in Yemen and destabilising the Middle East

In 2015, Saudi Arabia, together with the UAE, launched a military campaign in the poorest Arab state, ostensibly aimed at restoring the rule of the Yemeni government, which had been forced to flee the country in the face of Houthi rebels.

Despite overwhelming airpower, after five years of conflict the alliance has failed to capture much of the country from the Houthis, with the rebels still in control of the capital Sanaa.

Not satisfied with just expelling the Houthis, the UAE has also backed separatists in the south, in their bid to secure a state free of Yemeni government control. 

Due in part to the intervention by the Gulf states, Yemen is on the brink of starvation and faces a cholera crisis.

Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, around two million children under five years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. Over 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Yemen, including civilians killed by Saudi air strikes.

Mourners attend the funeral of people, mainly children, killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a bus in northern Yemen, in Saada, Yemen August 13, 2018.
Mourners attend the funeral of people, mainly children, killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a bus in northern Yemen, in Saada, Yemen August 13, 2018. (Reuters)

In 2018, the United States President Donald Trump commented on a school bus hit by Saudi airstrikes.

"I think it's a terrible situation. I hated seeing what happened with the bus and the children ‘cause that's pure — that's a horror show when you see a thing like that, you saw the bus."

"That was basically people that didn’t know how to use the weapon, which is horrible."

Saudi rulers are not only involved in the civil war in Yemen but also contributing to instability in the Middle East with its Qatar, Egypt and Libya policies.

Dark history of abducting members of the royal family

The oil-rich monarchy has seen several internal tussles within the family over the years.

There has been lots of evidence that missing members of Saudi Arabia's royal family have been kidnapped and abducted from other countries and brought back to Riyadh. 

Historically, Saudi officials have denied all accusations about the fate of missing princes and others they have been accused of abducting.

Prince Sultan bin Turki, Prince Turki bin Bandar, Prince Saud bin Saif were abducted by Saudi royal family due to their criticisms of the Riyadh rule.

Killings of Jamal Khashoggi

The prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

After months of denial, Riyadh admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate and announced an arrest warrant for 18 individuals allegedly involved in the crime.

Protestor in Washington against Jamal Khashoggi's murder by the Saudi state.
Protestor in Washington against Jamal Khashoggi's murder by the Saudi state. (Getty Images)

However, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) states: “The statements [made by Saudi authorities] appeared to be designed to insulate Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman from further scrutiny over the murder.”

The CIA in November briefed the White House that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.

The CIA's finding, first reported by the Washington Post, is the most definitive US assessment to date tying Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler directly to the killing.

The US Senate also accepted the resolution on December 13 that holds Crown Prince Mohammed responsible for killing Khashoggi.

Source: TRT World