tv Locked Up Abroad MSNBC April 24, 2015 9:00pm-10:01pm PDT
i saw an advert in the catering magazine requiring chefs in saudi arabia. i wanted a complete change in my life. within ten days, i was on a plane to saudi arabia. it was an islamic country. i remember the major culture shock from the moment you landed. every case was opened just to make sure that there was nothing that was illegal. rule one, do not take any alcohol with you. none of that is allowed in saudi arabia. and the length of term there was 12 weeks on and three weeks off. so i thought, well, 12 weeks without a drink won't do me any harm at all. everything was totally different.
oil was funding massive growth in the country. i was catering manager for the company building the saudi arabian national guard headquarters 50 kilometers out in the desert. i had to look after 200 american staff. the wages were three times what i was making in abbey moore in scotland. i would be up early, usually by about 5:30, making sure everything was shipshape and in order for their breakfasts. i don't like anything sloppy. you would check the supplies for the day. head into riyadh. in between, i'd go and visit friends who were also working
for the company in other compounds. you were told quite categorically that it was a dry country. i found that it wasn't really that difficult to get hold of alcohol. one of the very first parties i went to was on a compound. like most in the village it was surrounded by its own walls with a very large steel double game. so you were completely self contained in there. people in bikinis sunning themselves by the pool. you would just forget that you were in saudi arabia. >> gordon, how are you, man? wine? >> i thought, whoa, where's this come from. i'd love a drink, thank you. >> enjoy it. >> apart from being there for the exceptionally good wages i
regarded this as a sudden bonus. people were brewing their own homemade wine and making their own beer. so i had a glass of wine in my hand. followed by another one. it wasn't particularly nice wine. but it was drinkable. i thought, i can make it better than that. i looked at it as a business proposition. people wanted it. i was going to be the one who was going to supply it. so i decided to start making it myself. i never considered what would happen if i was ever caught.
it didn't come into the equation at all. in my position as a catering manager, the ingredients that were required were readily available for me. if somebody bought a large amount of sugar, somebody would get suspicious why you would want all that. it is a very repressive state. the undercover people worked in supermarkets, and so you would then get caught. so i was able to purchase it on a larger scale than any normal person who was working there. i didn't really have to hide anything because i had the premises, the equipment to do it on a commercial scale well away from everyone. i would start by putting the grape juice into the bottom of each dairy can.
and about two and a half kilo of sugar. and the dried yeast. this would ferment and be ready within ten to 14 days. i remember tasting my first homemade red wine. it was clear, a lovely dark color. i wasn't sure of how strong it would be. the only way to test that was by drinking it. it was good enough for a party, and good enough to drink.
within a period of about four weeks, i was up and running in production. and i had about 40 containers making approximately 250 to 300 liters. i have to say, i was quite proud of my product. my red wine was quite exceptional quality. and my white wine was classed as a local chardonnay. >> what's up, gordo? >> cheers. >> i had a secure place where i was brewing it. the most dangerous part was the transportation. i was due to deliver 50 liters of wine to a party in riyadh. there was a major crackdown by the military and the police.
the grand mosque of mecca had been stormed by terrorists. there was roadblocks, police cars everywhere. i was slightly apprehensive. i decide to be more cautious in the method of transportation. i felt they would look in the back, behind the seat but they wouldn't look under the engine cover. although i wasn't delivering a massive amount, whatever i was delivering, it was illegal. i had to deliver early evening to one of the compounds in riyadh.
it was actually on a long street heading into the town. there was a massive roadblock of military police, and i just had a feeling that they were going to pull me. there was no sense in trying to turn around. i can't go anywhere. i'm already committed. there's no way back out. i was flagged into the side of the road. if one of the officers asked me to open the engine cover, instant down fall. ♪ expected wait time: 55 minutes. your call is important to us. thank you for your patience. waiter! vo: in the nation, we know how it feels when you aren't treated like a priority.
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i've got nothing. i've done nothing. hey. what seems to be the problem, officer? he didn't speak english. my arabic was minimal. i remember thinking there was no way you to explain 50 liters of wine hanging down the sides of your engine. it wasn't exactly coolant fluid. [ speaking foreign language ] >> i don't know what you mean. okay. although i carried a saudia arabia driving license, i showed him my military pass. >> okay.
>> that was bit of a god send. >> go. >> thank you. i gave him a smile, and he waved me on my way. you didn't think that you would be involved with anything when you were working for their military. as i drove away from it, i felt quite elated. it didn't make me wonder if i should stop doing it. i had another 300 liters sitting there, ready. so there was no sense in trying to drink it all myself. i just always fault i was doing a nice little service, making some good money on the side, and having a good time. anybody here order a party? the average price of the wine was around 75 u.s. dollars, paid in saudi arabian riyadhs.
and i was making shall we say excessive amounts of money. at no time i did ever consider what the penalties might be because no one ever discussed it. i was quite a popular individual. of course i would have to be carrying 25 liters in each hand to be invited to a party. and there was a large, shall we say female contingent. and i was rather taken with one of the nurses.
and we became quite close. which was very enjoyable, shall we say. oh, so happy. >> there was virtually nothing i couldn't do. i could spend $5,000, $10,000 on a holiday, go to the finest hotels, the best places to eat, and generally have a good time. one weekend, myself, some friends, and all our girl friends flew over to bahrain for a very, very long and hectic weekend.
i ended up meeting two people in the bar. a tall german gentleman, and a slightly rotund dutch person. during a conversation, they asked where i had come from. saudi arabia. and the subject of alcohol of course came up. >> you managed to get a drinks. >> as a matter of fact, i actually make rather a lot of wine. there is a bit of a silence for a minute. they kind of looked at each other. and they said. >> would you be interested in distributing whiskey? >> i of course i asked them, i said -- how much? they said, about 400, 500 cases at a time. for bottle of whiskey, we would be in the region of about 200 u.s. dollars. i would make around 20,000 u.s. dollars per load. it was made clear to me, don't forget, this is our money. how would i get your money back to you, gentlemen?
>> that's not a problem. >> i had made a success of selling wine in saudi arabia. why not sell the real mccoy? >> then, gentlemen, i have a toast, to whiskey. >> to whiskey. i realized that this was into a much bigger league. after about four weeks, i got a phone call -- hello -- and it's from the dutch gentleman. oh, hi, stating that some generators were being delivered. okay. i'm standing there, looking, at two generators.
the generators of course were totally fake. i felt quite excited. i have over 200 boxes of whiskey in my warehouse. it was explained over the meeting in bahrain that it was very important to cut off the bar codes, every single one was burnt. there was no trace of where it came from, how it got into the country. it was just whiskey. [ phone ringing ]
>> hello? gordon, telephone. >> there was a fairly big party going on. hello? one of the people who normally would take between ten to 20 cases asked me if i could get them to them. yeah, no problem. so i loaded up the ten cases of whiskey in the back of the truck and drove into riyadh. i'm driving along a very dark and lonely road in the middle of nowhere. i knew there was some road works there because i traveled on the road quite a lot. and then suddenly a car hits me head on.
i'm not injured. but definitely dazed. i can see the man is trapped in there. i didn't know how badly injured. i couldn't do anything for him. but he was alive. i'm in the middle of a major accident, ten cases of whiskey in the back. huh, 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance. everybody knows that. well, did you know that game show hosts should only host game shows?
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i'm sitting there with ten cases of whiskey in the middle of the desert with no place to go. my choices were very limited. i can't drive away. my priorities were simple. hide the whiskey. it was in a very, very remote road, just total blackness, out in the desert. i decided to bury the ten cases at the side of the road. all the time i'm worrying that a car might come too soon.
a police car arrived. if you were involved in a car crash, no matter what the circumstances, you were going to be the guilty party. no one would ever take the word of a westerner against a saudi national. i didn't want them throwing me in jail for a road accident. although i had no physical injuries, nothing to show, no blood, nothing, i wanted them to think i might not be too well. you have got to help this guy. i pretended to be a little bit
shaken. i don't know what happened. he had something, and he just came right at me. you've got to help him out. so i pointed to my pass which in arabic said military hospital. they took me to the military hospital. and i had a miraculous recovery. i'm pondering how quick i can go back, retrieve the ten cases of whiskey before they are found at the scene of the accident. i had to retrieve the whiskey or it's going to be traced back to me.
i'm starting to get a little bit anxious. i'm thinking, is the whiskey still going to be there? if the whiskey isn't there, where is it? who found it? and it's going to be traced back to me. i buried it in the dark. i looked across. i couldn't even see where my footprints were. nine, ten. i went across the 20 paces. 17, 18, 19, 20.so i started digging up the whiskey.
i managed to do it all at once before another vehicle appeared. my luck at this point was still holding. i think a wise person at that time who is involved like i was in importation and selling illicit alcohol should have realized it was time to give up, go home, and leave. but i didn't. i went to this very large substantial villa. i knew it wasn't going to be a dry party. as i had previously supplied the whiskey. i met a very, very well spoken young saudi arabian prince. he was standing there in his national dress drinking my whiskey.
i see you enjoy a good whiskey. oh, yes, he said -- >> i enjoy my whiskey very much. >> he said i'm very westernized. he said, i'm very liberal in that manner. >> tell me, you wouldn't happen to know where i could get some? >> i decided to be slightly reticent on that occasion. i may know someone who can help you out. i said that i would be in a position if he wished, to supply him five cases of whiskey. he said that would be fine. >> call me on this number. >> thank you, your highness. this was the first time that i had ever sold whiskey to a saudi arabian national. i have to say, i wasn't particularly comfy. i had been at it for a while. i had led a rather charmed existence.
maybe i was going a step too far. i didn't want to get too involved in supplying too much. but i'm afraid i didn't listen to my own voice. i told him i would deliver around 3:30 which is just at the start of prayers. the roads would be quiet, et cetera. i arrived at the villa. my composure dropped instantly. there was about six saudis, all dressed in their uniforms. i've got ten cases of whiskey on the back, and i'm looking at a police captain. what the hell is happening here? i need to look for a used car.
but i just keep putting it off. it's daunting. what if i make the wrong choice? it's like, if i buy a t-shirt and then change my mind i can return it. but a car? you don't reeeaaa eeeeeaaaaaly know until you've driven it a few days. i just want to be sure. ♪ as long as people drive cars carmax will be the best way to buy them. you choose the salad.e. occasionally. but staying well - physically, financially, emotionally - its hard on your own. so cigna's got your back, and your knees, 24/7. cigna's there to answer your questions. or when you need some coaching. in sickness and in health, cigna's there, helping you to get well and stay well. that's having a partner, who's with you all the way. cigna.
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i'm in too deep. i thought, i'm finished. >> gordon! >> the prince is there. >> how are you. >> all right. >> thank you for coming so soon. >> gives me the cash. >> thank you very much for your punctuality. let me introduce you to the rest of the family. >> the prince introduced me to the captain. these were his friends and relatives. >> this is isil, my cousin. fahad, my other cousin. >> hello. >> he wanted to give them whiskey. i didn't like the fact that i had been seen by officials. our agreement had always been i didn't want to be seen by anyone else. so all the rules had gone. >> thank you. >> thank you, sir. have a very pleasant drive back.
>> i obviously was annoyed, but i could not show it. >> see you later. >> bye-bye. >> as i drove off, i had a horrible feeling that something wasn't going to go right. i had a feeling of some doom. i was getting a little bit paranoid. i felt that things might be starting to lose control. and i would do one more load, and then it would be time to leave the country. i discussed it with my girlfriend. i was, shall we say, very keen to start life again in the u.k. how would you feel about -- how would you feel about coming back
to live with me. >> really? >> right. >> sounds good. >> sounds good? >> uh-huh. >> i didn't tell her, of course, that i had arranged to bring a load of whiskey into the country. will you come with me. >> yes. >> cheers. stupid as it may seem, i just decided, you know, i'll do one more load into the country. the bell rings. i actually thought it was a friend of mine who was due to come and visit me. i went straight out, opened the gate -- i had a gun put to my head.
a very large.45 caliber revolver. no time to be scared at that point. i was roughly pushed into the villa. one man stands with his foot on my neck. i realized right away that everything had changed. there's nothing i could do about it. i had been caught. they were going out to the warehouse. and sitting there was ten cases of whiskey. i'm pulled up. i recognized one of the
individuals as the prince's right hand man. he must have sold me out to the police. i'm sitting in the back of this police car. by this time, i'm realizing i'm in some serious trouble. i'm being driven through part of riyadh that i didn't recognize. there's nothing there that says this is a police station. i know i'm in deep trouble. can't do anything about it. >> we found the whiskey mr. gordon. >> i hoped that they would just believe that i had ten cases of
whiskey, and that would be the end of the matter. i'd get fined and thrown out of the country. >> you need to tell us where are the guns? >> i'm getting really scared now. i've never had any guns. wait! wait! i never had any guns! everything is out of my control. totally. why do we do it? why do we spend every waking moment, thinking about people? why are we so committed to keeping you connected? why combine performance with a conscience? why innovate for a future without accidents? why do any of it? why do all of it? because if it matters to you, it's everything to us.
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handcuffed me to a tree. you know you're in trouble. you know -- grief. i don't know anything about any guns. they asked me the questions again. >> how did you get the guns? >> i didn't bring any guns into saudi. i was hung in the tree for some time. the pain was indescribable. i lost track of days. i was shackled, hand and foot,
put in a police van. will i be out of the country? where will i be sent to? will i go to jail? you expect to be taken to a court, be asked what happened, do you plead guilty? there is your lawyer. none of that exists. it doesn't happen there. we're then pushed into a room. in front of us were three saudi men.
they were the mutaween, the religious police, who everyone feared. the next minute i'm handed a scrap of paper, all in arabic. i'm thinking, what's this? there is an egyptian man there. and he spoke english. >> your sentence, four years in the jail. and 480 lashes. >> i started to feel a bit numb. felt like a lifetime. i was taken to what i discovered was the equivalent of hell.
even with all of the noise, i'd been on and off awake for so long, i just instantly slept. early in the morning, there would be this great big vat of something would appear. there's no such thing as a queue. everyone wanted to get there. when it came to getting fed, i had gone from being at the top ends of the market to the lowest of low.
everything, of course, had changed. i was in saudi arabia for a long time now. >>who... is this?! >>hi, i am heinz new mustard. hi na na na na >>she's just jealous because you have better taste. whatever. >>hey. keep your chin up. for years, heinz ketchup has been with the wrong mustard. well, not anymore. introducing heinz new better tasting yellow mustard. mmm!
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so time passed without any outside sounds that were familiar to you. you had to have a complete change in the way that you thought. they prayed five times a day. i made sure that i didn't get in their way. i hadn't respected their religion outside, but i learned to respect it inside. the first time i saw my girlfriend at al mallah, i was terribly pleased to see her. it was like a breath of fresh air. there was somebody come to see
me. she's made the effort to come to a saudi jail. you are very grateful for the visit. my life was on total hold. all plans were gone. the thoughts of being together were no longer there. as i watched my girlfriend go away, the great loneliness comes across you. and it's back inside. back to hell. before you know it, a year's gone by.
and then you can start to think, i've done half. then of course you probably start to think, how soon before i get the lashes? people were usually flogged on a friday, after the main prayers at noon. they were made to lion the floor, and a long cane would be used. usually, 40, 50 at a time. occasionally you'd hear somebody cry out. depends how the individual took pain. i was determined that when it happened to me, i wasn't going to scream, no matter what.
i wasn't particularly looking forward to the prospect of being lashed. but in some ways, one thought, well, at least when it happens i'm getting near to getting out. one day, i'm sitting in the cell, a guard appears. you're going home. it was an instant shock. i didn't know what was going to happen. would i suddenly get flogged? he said, you are foreign amnesty. it was only then it started to
> i didn't really know a lot about saudi arabia. it looked fantastic. palm trees, sun. what more can you ask for? >> cheers. >> the biggest shock is when i read a line, homosexuality is a crime. i wondered would it be safe for me to go there. >> i'm gay. >> i just couldn't believe there was drugs. there was alcohol, gay men. they were doing it. so why not me?