Qatari sheikh at center of Beverly Hills speeding case flees the country

Exotic cars and foreign royalty are nothing new to Beverly Hills.

But a video showing a yellow Ferrari valued in the seven-figures speeding through stop signs and blazing past pedestrians has generated anger among residents and presented a case for police tinged with international intrigue.

For several days, there's been a mystery over who owned the car. But officials revealed Thursday that the owner is Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al Thani of Qatar's ruling family.

Al Thani is well-known in the international racing world and has been dubbed the “patron sheikh” of drag racing by the media.

The video showed the Ferrari and a Porsche speeding through narrow residential streets in Beverly Hills, prompting residents to call police. By the time an officer arrived, the two cars were outside a home on Walden Drive. Authorities said officers talked to Al Thani and that he denied he was driving the car. He also said he had diplomatic immunity, officials said.

After contacting the U.S. State Department and the Qatari consulate, police concluded that the sheikh did not have such immunity, police Chief Dominick Rivetti said during a news conference Thursday.

But since the racing video went viral, Al Thani has fled the country, police said. The Ferrari and the Porsche also were gone.

Police say they have been unable to prove who was behind the wheel of the cars. Investigators have not been able to find anyone willing to identify the drivers, Lt. Lincoln Hoshino said.

“No one produced any evidence of who was at the wheel of the two cars,” Hoshino said. “The drivers weren't visible on the videos or photographs.”

Adam Bornstein, a car enthusiast who posted the video online, said that up until that incident, the visitors from Qatar had kept a low profile in the city.

“They've been known to come and stay in the summer with their nice cars. For the most part, they're very laid-back and mellow,” he said.

Al Thani had been staying at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. When Bornstein heard that there was a Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 911 GT3 in Beverly Hills, he and his friend went by to check it out.

That's when they saw the vehicles peel out in the neighborhood and speed around other motorists.

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“It was pretty quick … a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he said of the drivers. “The bottom line — for the whole car community, it's definitely a sad representation. … The whole buzz is everybody's upset that this does not accurately represent what it's like.”

Al Thani was for year a high-profile sponsor of Al-Anabi Racing on the professional drag-racing circuit.

The Times reported that Al Thani formed a team in 2008 with drag-racing crew chief Alan Johnson. The team won championships in top fuel — the most elite class of dragsters — in 2010, 2011 and 2013 with three different drivers. Also in 2013, Al Thani signed a five-year contract extension with Johnson.

But this year, Al Thani unexpectedly pulled out of the team that he had reportedly been funding at $10 million annually.

Chief Rivetti said at the news conference that Al Thani's status would play no role in the investigation. Beverly Hills, he said, applies the law equally regardless of “who you are, who you know or where you are from.”

joseph.serna@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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