They had to wait awhile, but Santa Barbara County prosecutors may finally have their chance to jail a powerful Saudi Arabian oil official's son who jumped bail three years ago rather than serve a 45-day reckless driving sentence.
It is a case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Darryl Perlin said Friday, that has brought him at least one call from a senior U.S. State Department attorney who told him that, in Perlin's words, "the highest authorities had been contacted" and there was concern that "the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia could be jeopardized."
The fugitive, Tarek Abdulhadi Taher, 28, a former UC Santa Barbara student with what Perlin called "an outrageous driving record" who fled the state in 1982 rather than go to jail for racing his Ferrari on U.S. 101, is the son of Dr. Abdulhadi H. Taher, governor of Saudi Arabia's General Petroleum and Mineral Organization.
That is the government-owned corporation that develops the Mideast nation's petroleum, petrochemical and mineral industries. Perlin said the elder Taher is described as one of the most powerful figures in the oil-rich Mideast country.
Cutoff Implied, He Says
Although no one has said the United States is worried that Saudi Arabia might cut off its oil shipments to the United States if the younger Taher goes to jail, Perlin said that seems to be the implication.
In the probation report after Taher's 1981 jury conviction, it was noted that an attorney for the young Saudi had written a letter "indicating that the U.S. Department of State is keenly interested in the status of the defendant's case and wishes to be kept apprised of the proceedings."
The case also drew attention from comedian Danny Thomas, Perlin said. In March, 1982, while the defendant was free on $5,000 bond during appeal, Thomas wrote a letter asking that the $5,000 be accepted as payment of a fine "in lieu of any jail confinement."
Subsequently, when the appeal was turned down and a judge increased the bail to $100,000, Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Thomas Sneddon was contacted by an attorney offering the larger amount as a fine--also in lieu of jail. Sneddon declined the offer.
'Buying Your Way Out'
"It struck us as equivalent to buying your way out of jail," Perlin said Friday. "We just don't operate that way."
When it came time to begin serving his sentence, however, Tarek Taher vanished.
Perlin said the Santa Barbara County prosecutor's office made certain that the U.S. Customs Service computer system contained the bail-jumping warrant on Taher. On Wednesday, that precaution paid off when Taher was taken into custody at Boston's Logan Airport, where he allegedly was trying to enter the country without declaring $25,000 worth of jewelry.
Customs officers checked the computer and discovered the Santa Barbara warrant. As soon as they were notified, Santa Barbara authorities sought to have the bail on Taher increased to $8 million, on the presumed premise that anything less would be virtual pocket change to the wealthy Saudi.
Lowered to $100,000
A Santa Barbara Municipal judge wouldn't go that far, but agreed to set bail at $850,000. In Boston, however, Judge Joseph Ferrino lowered that to $100,000.
Taher posted bail without any apparent trouble and was free Friday pending a Nov. 21 hearing in Boston on the Santa Barbara County extradition request.
At least, Perlin pointed out, Customs officers confiscated his passport.
"The one thing that offends me," the deputy district attorney said, "is that Mr. Taher feels there are two systems of justice--one for the citizens of the United States and one for him."