Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, is under fire for accepting jewels from the royal family of Bahrain; critics demand sale of the gems
Buckingham Palace was forced to defend the Countess of Wessex after it emerged she had accepted a lavish set of gems from the Bahrain royal family during a visit to the Gulf state.
Diamonds are not a girl's best friend: King Hamad al-Khalifa (below) gifted Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, two lavish 'suites' of gems. file pics/getty images
For Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, the brief visit to Bahrain shortly before Christmas was just one of her many official duties.
She was visiting the Middle Eastern kingdom with her husband Prince Edward on behalf of the Queen, and the couple's official duties included attending a banquet at the King of Bahrain's palace on December 21.
As is the custom official gifts were presented to the visiting dignitaries. Which is where the trouble began. The gifts for the Countess included two lavish 'suites' of gems from King Hamad al-Khalifa and prime minister Shaikh bin Salman al-Khalifa and a silver and pearl cup from the Crown Prince. Her husband was presented a silk rug.
The problem was that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, Bahrain's brutal treatment of pro-democracy activists has raised concern around the world and accepting gifts from such a regime was bound to provoke controversy.
Buckingham Palace is now facing calls to return the jewels or sell them and donate the proceeds to victims of the regime's repressive measures. Critics say that the nature of the visit placed the Countess in the impossible position of having to accept the gifts from a regime whose human rights record was severely tarnished.
Denis MacShane, a former foreign minister, said, "Buckingham Palace should send back this gift or sell it and donate the proceeds to the victims of Bahraini repression. I'm sure the royal family have got enough jewellery to be getting on with. It's not Sophie's fault that she has been placed in this embarrassing situation, but the sooner this is dealt with the better. I'm afraid that when it comes to international relations diamonds are not a girl's best friend."
Buckingham Palace refused to reveal the value of the gems. The Countess' acceptance of the gift, revealed in a list of presents published by the palace, has again placed the spotlight on the question of relations between Britain's royal family and some of the Middle East's hard-line regimes.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain has been friends with the royal family. But his invitation to last year's royal wedding of Prince William prompted an outcry following his country's violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.