Saudi King showered Obamas and other officials with lavish gifts in 2009

Jan 18, 2011 6:13pm

ABC's Kirit Radia reports:

During her husband’s first year in office, First Lady Michelle Obama received a large number of gifts from foreign dignitaries, but perhaps none are more impressive than the ones she got from Saudi King Abdullah. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t get to keep them.

The First Lady was the lucky recipient of a ruby and diamond jewelry set valued at $132,000 and a necklace made of 33 pearls with a sterling silver pendant, valued at $14,200, according to a State Department report on foreign gifts to U.S. officials during 2009 that was published today in the Federal Register.

The King also gave President Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, jewelry that including diamond earrings and necklaces valued at over $3,500 per set.

Given the lavish gifts given by the Saudi King to his family, President Obama could be excused for feeling shortchanged by the marble base featuring gold figurines and large gold medallion he received from the King, which were valued at only $34,500.

The King’s generosity also extended to senior White House officials, who received tens of thousands of dollars worth of watches and jewelry. A government interpreter received ruby and diamond jewelry and other items worth an estimated $23,400.

Such gifts are not unusual for top officials, though the Saudi King’s extravagance was notable. State Department officials are quick to point out that gift giving is a time-honored element of diplomacy and relationship building. In 2009 any gifts over $335, however, were required to be reported and cannot be retained for private use. In 2011 the minimum was increased to $350. While such gifts could be kept for official use, they must either be purchased for private use or transferred to the National Archive, in the case of the president and his family, or the General Services Administration in the case of lower officials.

President Obama has given gifts during his travels abroad, but they do not appear to be nearly as extravagant. When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Washington in March, 2009 President Obama gave him a box collection of 25 classic American films on DVD. Prime Minister Brown gave the president a black and gold pen made with wood from the HMS Gannet as well as a collection of rare books, valued together at around $16,510.

In all, the Saudi King’s gifts to American officials in 2009 topped $330,000. After the First Lady’s ruby and diamond jewelry set, the next highest individual gift was a gold and diamond watch that the First Lady received from the First Lady of Ghana, valued at $48,000. All of the gifts, the report indicated, have been transferred over to the National Archives.

The full report can be found here: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/pdf/2011-794.pdf.

The report lists about 10 pages of gifts for President Obama and his family, about a fifth of all gifts to US officials that were declared. Among the gifts the President and First Family received from other leaders:

-  A Mikimoto desk clock and black basketball jersey from Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, valued at $1,495

-  A “small wooden CD holder; one book; fifteen compact discs” from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, valued at $415

-  A “bronze statue of a girl releasing a flock of doves” from Israeli President Shimon Peres, valued at $8000

-  A bottle of olive oil from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, valued at $75

- A “wooden framed and matted fine silk embroidery depicting a portrait study of the First Family” from Chinese President Hu Jintao, valued at $20,000

The report also lists numerous antique books, framed photos, pens, clocks, and other gifts that the President and his family were presented with that are worth tens of thousands of dollars more, as well as gifts received by other officials throughout the government.

– Kirit Radia

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