Obama's staff not in a position to enjoy lavish Saudi gifts

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Washington, June 11 (ANI): Staff accompanying US President Barack Obama on his recent trip to Saudi Arabia have deposited lavish and opulent gifts given by the royal family with the State Department.

Roughly a dozen White House staffers travelling with the US delegation each received an alligator-skin briefcase from the Saudi royal family, sources said. Inside, they found an array of expensive jewels, including rings, necklaces, gemstones and watches.

The surprised staff members didn't need an appraiser to tell them the jewellery-stuffed briefcases far exceeded the 335 dollars limit on gifts federal employees are allowed to accept, Politico reports.

"You can look at it and tell," a State Department official said, noting the large number of items inside the briefcases.

The White House aides who received the gifts promptly passed them off to State, said White House spokesman Ben LaBolt.

"The gifts were immediately handed over to State Department officials. Under federal law, they are treated as gifts to the United States, not the individuals," LaBolt said.

LaBolt said he could not determine exactly who received a briefcase, but among Obama's entourage were senior officials such as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, speechwriter Jon Favreau and National Security Adviser James Jones.

The Saudis did not give Obama one of the briefcases, but the president received other gifts, including a medallion known as the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit.

The alligator-skin briefcases and jewels are now in the hands of the White House gift office, where their value will be appraised and their final fate determined, the State Department official said.

Refusing the items is not an option, according to the State Department official, if it might cause embarrassment to the Saudis.

One option would be for recipients to purchase the gifts at the government's appraised cost. Another would be for staff to use gifts that go over the limit in some official capacity or to decorate the office or display in a lobby. (ANI)

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