Street-Racing Arab Playboys Tear Up L.A.
The Qatari sheikh who staged an illegal street race through Beverly Hills is just one of many rich, car-obsessed Arabs eyeing L.A. as their new go-to vacation spot.
The speed-freak Qatari sheikh who fled the U.S. after running into trouble with cops—for allegedly staging a private Grand Prix in Beverly Hills—was living the high life in California, renting a palatial abode for $55,000 a month, The Daily Beast has learned.
Cops suspect that Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani was behind the wheel of an unregistered Giallo Modena yellow Ferrari LaFerrari that street-raced another driver (in a Porsche GT3) for over 30 minutes on September 12, and “almost killed someone” as throngs of neighborhood kids gawked on the sidewalks.
Meanwhile, a source who had been shadowing al-Thani said that his brother arrived in L.A. also sporting multimillion-dollar wheels—a satin white LaFerrari—and that his car magically “had a California plate on it within a day of arrival.”
At the time of the street-racing incident, the sheikh and his family were holed up in a Malibu pad, as well as a suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and a $10 million palace on Walden Drive that the royals were renting for a cool $55,000 for the month of September.
The mansion was bought last December by an industrialist from Iran and Azerbaijan named Ahadpur Khangah, according to property records. The owner accumulated a great deal of wealth taking Isuzu truck assembly lines to the former Soviet state while also racking up dairy contracts with the U.S. Army and farming sturgeon for caviar.
Khangah was discussed in a WikiLeaks cable back in 2010 for partnering with the heirs to a wealthy Azerbaijan family on a pair of Gulfstream private jets worth $20 million apiece. Under the snarky subheadline “His Boys and Their Toys,” the cable points to the polo enthusiast Khangah as “not previously known to the Embassy” before the Gulfstream buy, but noted that he “appears to be a citizen of both Iran and Azerbaijan (unclear if he also holds other passports).”
Khangah’s California mansion was rented through Elite Luxury Homes, listed as a “Beverly Hills Architectural” and fetching either $2,250 a night or $55,000 a month. The “masterwork” is a five-bedroom “rare find” that stands three stories tall with a backyard pool and wine room.
A partner at Elite Luxury Homes, Chad Waterhouse, said his company does “everything by the book” and noted that “this homeowner did one month (31 days) with [the sheikh] and they paid cash and they signed all the leases and disclosures.” (Beverly Hills sets strict guidelines to ward off opportunistic homeowners from turning their pads into an Airbnb. The law states “a single housekeeping unit... may, up to twice per calendar year… allow stays of less than six months.”)
“Anybody would have rented to them,” Waterhouse added. “As far as the cars are concerned, nobody [was] prepared for that.”
But al-Thani’s stay was cut short when the family jetted off after the street-racing fiasco and forfeited the rent and deposit that the sheikh had paid up front.
Waterhouse said that Qataris and other Middle Eastern families are flooding the Beverly Hills zone because they “want the ZIP Code.”
“These types of tenants have more money than God,” Waterhouse said. “They don’t want the hotels. They have huge families and they rent homes all over Beverly Hills from July through September.”
Government officials from Qatar are often helping their wealthy citizens pinpoint places to live and serve as a character references. “They have their government contact people here because they are highly sought-after people,” Waterhouse said. “Before the cars, this is your ideal client: somebody who lives in the home, they want all the services like housekeeping every day and security.
“This isn’t Justin Bieber who is coming to give everybody around him a headache,” he said.
And yet a headache is exactly what al-Thani wreaked upon the leafy neighborhood on that fateful Saturday.
What the viral videos of the street race fail to show is that the speed demons tore up the Beverly Hills streets for over 30 minutes in numerous loops, The Daily Beast has learned.
“It wasn’t one lap,” said one neighborhood mom, who didn’t want to be named. “It was three laps. And my kids were outside on their bicycles playing.
“It’s just lucky it was a Saturday and a miracle they didn’t happen to take a life,” she said.
Several kids in the neighborhood claimed to have seen the race. “I was by the house and watched as they sped by my house and they woke up my parents, who were sleeping,” said one 10-year-old. “Next day, [the sheikh’s family] were gone.”
Another 10-year-old boy was revved up over the Ferrari festivities. “It was really loud,” he said, smiling, as his mother looked on disapprovingly. “I was playing in the alley and the car started smoking,” he said. (The smoking, a source with knowledge of autos said, “was caused by dumb driving... [the sheikh] drove the car when it was cold and the oil wasn’t properly warmed up.”)
The mother of the boy admitted the illegal event “was exciting for the kids” but she remains “really pissed.”
“They think they can come here and do whatever they want,” she said. After the roadsters roared by the family’s home multiple times, she said her husband shouted: “Those motherfuckers.”
Other neighbors (most of them parents) had seen the cars go by before but on this particular weekend, one mother said, “they let it rip.”
A car enthusiast reached by The Daily Beast who calls several lead-footed and loaded Arabs his friends, has seen unreleased video footage from that day and spoke to various witnesses who were trailing the cars.
On that particular Saturday the sheikh allegedly opted to drive the LaFerrari only after his full matte carbon fiber Bugatti Veyron (worth $2.5 million) “wouldn’t start,” the source said.
As a fallback, the source said, al-Thani then took out the Ferrari (replete with Qatari plates) and “went off, did what he did and crossed the line.”
But the sheikh, the source said, was mindful of being spotted. “He pulled one of the [Cadillac] Escalades up against the driveway so no one saw who was going in or out of the car.
One clip shows the same car “terrorizing” Beverly Hills as it powerslides by a woman walking in a crosswalk.
Others reveal the LaFerrari and G3 drivers blowing at least one stop sign and callously coming within inches of sideswiping a sedan.
The wife of that driver was rattled after her husband was almost struck by the speedsters. “He was trying to turn on Walden [Drive] and he stopped and didn’t see a car and was going to go,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, told us. “My husband didn’t think ‘Somebody is going to come from behind at 100 miles per hour and hit me,’” the 22-year Beverly Hills resident said.
“They did get away with it,” she said. “They’re gone.”
But the twentysomething Arab playboy apparently didn’t make a mad dash for the airport as many assumed.
A source who stuck on al-Thani’s exhaust trail confirmed the royal actually stuck around for a few days and was lying low at his Malibu rental before leaving the U.S. “I saw his [purple] Bentley and Escalade driving up along Pacific Coast Highway,” the source said.
What’s more, despite the bad press and fuming anger in Beverly Hills after the racing incident, the source said, the sheikh’s fleet of cars remained stashed in a hangar at LAX. “They took their time to leave,” the source said.
Officially, the investigation in Beverly Hills remains open and cops are hoping more witnesses and evidence comes forward so they can cite the sheikh or whoever was driving for flouting the law. They admit they are limited with video footage and can’t discern much beyond the tinted windows. “We suspect [al-Thani] has some sort of involvement in this but we can’t put him behind the wheel of the Ferrari,” said Beverly Hills Police Lt. Lincoln Hoshino.
All the cops have to go on for now is that Shiekh al-Thani told them “‘I own the cars and I have diplomatic immunity,’” said Lt. Hoshino. (A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that there wasn’t anybody involved in this incident “entitled to diplomatic or consular immunity”—which is perhaps why al-Thani and his entourage fled shortly after the incident.)
Lt. Hoshino stressed that the police department isn’t going soft on the sheikh. “This is not the first guy with an exotic car we’ve run into,” Hoshino said. “We don’t care who you are, or where or how much money you have.”
The sheikh apparently failed to register the cars in question with the State Department and local authorities. Lt. Hoshino confirmed that the LaFerrari at least was “not registered” to be driving on the roads in California or anywhere else in the U.S.
How Sheikh Khalid Hamad al-Thani managed to steal away, without even so much as a speeding ticket, at all is partly due to the fact that Qatar is a member country of the Visa Waiver Program.
A Department of Homeland Security official explained that unless the sheikh was facing charges or had an outstanding warrant for his arrest he would be able to quickly leave the country. “We would only stop someone if there is an open warrant for his or her arrest,” the source said, not speaking specifically about the sheikh’s status. “If there is no formal charge there’s no record in the system and that individual is not going to be stopped.”
But after the run-in with the law, another government official confirmed that the heir is all but “guaranteed to be in the system and would have trouble getting into the U.S.” in the future.
Phone calls and detailed emails addressing the specifics of this story were received by a spokeswoman at the Qatari Embassy but no responses were given.
Al-Thani has been a racing fanatic since he was 12 years old and has been trying to steer a legitimate path. He injected beaucoup bucks ($10 million annually) kickstarting engines back in 2008 to underwrite Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing and, according to one of his drivers, become “a major player in worldwide drag racing.” Sheikh al-Thani explained his high-rolling philosophy in a Wall Street Journal profile: “We like to present ourselves nicely, but I have to spend a little more because we got established so fast,” he said.
That team churned out champions like Khalid alBalooshi of Dubai and Southern California’s Shawn Langdon. But the sheikh severed ties with the team earlier this year for unknown reasons.
This past summer, al-Thani and his entourage were a common sight around Beverly Hills. At the Walden Drive property, neighbors say, the royals brought with them several lux shuttle busses and a security detail that gridlocked the street with its SUVs. Other sources say that the yellow Ferrari and Porsche involved in the drag race could often be seen parked outside Cartier as the sheikh shopped for baubles, or spotted outside exclusive hotspots like The Grove and the chic SLS Hotel.
Al-Thani is just one of many drivers from the Middle East who fly their cars in private jets to their vacation hotspots. The hot wheels of the so-called “Arab Playboys” are a regular sight on the streets of London and Paris. That they have now landed in the States is a new thing.
“Generally they just like cars and most of them are fantastic,” said one source, who has forged close ties to several foreign drivers from the Middle East. “They’re hated in Europe,” the source said, adding that the States offers the sultan-style set (often armed with A-1 visas) a kind of clean slate. “This is the first year they have shipped their cars here and they’re very nice guys; nicer than Americans even,” the source added.
To show how kind the playboys are, the source pointed to one Saudi man who had shipped his Koenigsegg Agera R (a hypercar manufactured in Sweden) and, while gassing up in Brentwood this past summer, managed to witness another car make contact with his precious vehicle’s bumper.
Love-tapping the $3 million car’s bumper could have set Saudi off, but instead he let it slide, the source said. “He was just like, ‘It’s OK. There’s no damage.’”
The trend to bring “The Season” (as it’s called) to L.A. may become a summer tradition here, the source said.
That might mean a windfall for businesses wherever the cars and their security detail choose to pit-stop. “They will all go down to Orange County, or out to Malibu or Beverly Hills and they spend a lot of money everywhere they go,” the source said.
That is, unless al-Thani’s alleged drag race ruins it for his exclusive circle. “This guy fucked it up for everyone,” the source said.
But despite the embarrassing drag-racing episode and increased police vigilance, the source said that the big shots and their cars will be coming back to Cali soon.
“There will be a winter break for these guys and they think this will blow over,” the source said. “When summer comes they will be back—some of my friends are already planning their return trips.”