Live

Watch CBSN Live

American Alleges Assault By UAE Sheik

Almost 10 years after embarking on a corporate career in Europe, Silvano Orsi is back living with his parents, only rarely leaving their home to pick up drugs at the pharmacy or meet a friend for coffee.

Out of work for more than two years, the former Swisscom AG executive walks with a limp and suffers nightmares, the result of what he calls an unprovoked assault in a five-star Swiss hotel by a tipsy Arab sheik whose brother is now ruler of the United Arab Emirates.

"I didn't do anything to instigate this, this was a hate crime," Orsi said as an investigating magistrate in Geneva edges toward deciding whether to recommend a criminal trial. "I will never swallow what he's done to me. It doesn't matter who he is."

Orsi said he had no idea who Sheik Fallah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was before they met on the evening of Aug. 19, 2003. In fact, he didn't learn his identity, he said, until he stumbled bloodied and bruised to the hotel reception desk and pleaded with staff to call the police.

At a closed-door hearing in March, the sheik acknowledged they got into a heated scuffle when he overheard someone remark that "this sheik is gay." But he insisted he never struck Orsi, either with his fists or his belt, nor arranged to pay him $13,000 in hush money.

Orsi, a son of Italian immigrants who grew up in suburban Rochester, said he was sipping fruit juice while chatting in English and Italian with a Saudi friend near the bar at the posh La Reserve hotel when a passer-by dressed in casual shirt and jeans asked where he was from.

The stranger offered him something to drink and Orsi declined, saying he didn't drink alcohol, yet the man soon sent over a bottle of Dom Perignon. Orsi said he politely waved his thanks but left the champagne unopened on the table because he was worried the offer was a ploy to force a confrontation.

A quarter-hour later, Orsi alleged, the man suddenly came up behind him, jostled his glasses, sat in his lap and tried to kiss and fondle him. When Orsi protested, he maintained the man became violently angry, threw him to the floor, punched and stomped him, smashed his glasses underfoot, then removed his belt and whipped him with the metal buckle.

All the time, Orsi said his attacker was yelling abuse, saying at one point that "no stupid American or Italian is going to tell me what to do!"


After hotel staff and others intervened, taking him into a side room, Orsi said he was getting first aid for a deep cut over his left eye and welts on his arms and back when the man appeared again and flailed at him with his belt, then did the same a third time after Orsi retreated to the reception desk.

By this time, with private bodyguards appearing, Orsi suspected he had run into "maybe some personality." He was told the man was a son of Emirates ruler Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Sheik Fallah's elder brother, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was appointed president when their father died in November 2004.

Sheik Fallah, 35, was charged in November with suspicion of assault with a dangerous instrument, which carries a maximum three-year prison sentence.

According to a transcript obtained by The Associated Press, the sheik said at a March 13 hearing in Geneva magistrate Yves Aeschlimann's office that he was annoyed when Orsi refused the champagne but confronted him "after I was called gay."

The sheik said he and Orsi grabbed and shook each other violently for about 30 seconds before his bodyguards intervened. He claimed he took off his belt because Orsi "is bigger than me" and "I was just at the very point of striking him with my belt but we were separated."

Defense attorney Marco Crisante said attorneys must submit their witness lists by April 30. He expects the magistrate will decide in either May or June whether there is enough evidence of wrongdoing to turn the case over to a state prosecutor, who would then decide whether or not the sheik should stand trial.

"Justice will do its job," said Crisante, declining to discuss specifics of the case. "I prefer keeping all my opinions for the (judge)."

Calls to the press office at the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington were not returned.

Likening his ordeal to "a horror movie," Orsi said he sustained a herniated disk, nerve damage in his right leg and post-traumatic stress disorder. He provided a letter from an American doctor in Rome who certified him as "100 percent disabled" pending surgery that could cost up to $80,000.

Orsi said he moved to Geneva in 2000 to become head of international operations at Swisscom after working in a similar job in Rome for three years. In 2002, he joined a telecommunications consulting firm that dealt with chiefly Middle Eastern clients.

Orsi moved back to Rome in late 2003 after allegedly being confronted at a restaurant by associates of the sheik who threatened to shoot him if he didn't drop his complaint.

Returning home last summer, Orsi said he discovered he wasn't eligible for health disability benefits because he hasn't worked in the United States for 10 years. He appealed to the Bush administration to "provide me proper aid and medical treatment" and to seek an explanation and an apology from the Emirates.

When the criminal proceeding wraps up, Orsi plans to sue the sheik and the hotel for unspecified damages.

"The boy is depressed right now," said his father, Silvano Orsi Sr., a retired General Motors worker who emigrated from Italy in 1965. "We feel very bad because he is a very bright guy, very handsome, very nice person. We are a good family and this is a big thing for us."

"This has ruined my life," his son raged. "I have to defend myself, no one else is doing it for me."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue