Ritz cleared of detainees: Saudi Bakr bin Laden asked not to travel?
Saudi Bin Laden Group (SBG) is not picking up their phones. Ameinfo tried to no avail.
Since reports surfaced that the Riyadh Carlton Ritz no longer had any detainees, we wanted to find out if SBG’s chairman Bakr bin Laden is among those released, still detained elsewhere or asked not to travel.
“The crackdown is not over completely. Some of those freed from their gilded prison have been told not to travel outside Saudi Arabia for now,” people aware of the matter told the Financial Times (FT).
Reuters, which exclusively said that SBG had transferred ownership of the company to Saudi authorities, later in January said only some of SBG’s shareholders might transfer part of their holdings to the state in a settlement with authorities, which detained several members of the founding family.
SBG, is the largest construction company in the Kingdom, but had suffered layoffs and a freeze in new contracts since an SBG crane accident that led to 107 people dying at Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 2015.
Ritz ready for Valentines
The Ritz is feeling the love now that its manacles have been removed allowing it to accept regular chocolate and romance craving guests for this February’s Valentine’s Day.
Reuters reported a Saudi official as telling it all remaining detainees from the hotel had been released this Tuesday.
The official did not say if anyone remained detained elsewhere despite reports of just that, considering that there are 95 remaining in custody and could be awaiting trials.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed, owner of Kingdom Holding, and Waleed Al-Ibrahim, major shareholder in broadcaster MBC were among the recently released from the November 4, 2017 anti corruption purge that saw 350 people detained.
Prince Alwaleed was filmed by Reuters claiming his innocence and MBC’s Ibrahim “was fully exonerated and declared innocent of any wrongdoing, no corruption charges, no charges actually whatsoever,” a senior executive at MBC group told Reuters.
However, Saudi officials told Reuters both men “agreed to settlements after admitting unspecified violations.”
This lack of clarity leaves room to speculation.
Investor community unease
“The allegations against the men and their settlements have been kept secret, leaving the global investment community to wonder what the penalties are for large-scale corruption in Saudi Arabia – and whether detainees were actually guilty,” said Reuters.
It added that the decision to release all detainees precedes a scheduled trip by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the US and Europe in February and March this year, quoting diplomats.
“The releases, and what kind of deals may have been struck, could have huge implications for Saudi Arabia’s image in the international investment community,” Reuters said.
“The release of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and a number of other high-profile individuals may ease some concerns, but we still don’t have any details on what sort of agreement they have reached with the authorities. It just adds to the murkiness surrounding the whole process,” Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics in London, told Reuters.
He added: “Investors will probably need some reassurance on the exact procedures going forward to deal with corruption allegations.”
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan, said at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos last week that detainees cleverly hid assets.
“Attempts to raid bank accounts held in Switzerland were rebuffed,” senior Swiss bankers told FT.
They pointed out that “only a legal approach with credible evidence of wrongdoing would allow Swiss lenders to open their vaults to Saudi authorities.”
“The purge became a liability as much as an opportunity,” said Andrew Bowen, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“(Saudi Crown Prince) MBS made some big hits and changed the rules of the kingdom but, equally, that uncertainty produced a PR blowback.”
Aramco IPO hesitancy
FT reported that there was great “indecision” at the highest levels of government about Saudi Aramco’s planned 5% IPO, causing frustration among company executives and financial advisers.
“The kingdom is targeting a listing in late 2018, with shares to be sold on the domestic Tadawul exchange. But Saudi Arabia’s preparedness for this flotation and willingness for a simultaneous or sequential flotation abroad has come into question,” said FT.
Khalid al-Falih, energy minister, told the FT last week: “The IPO process is on schedule. That readiness that was meant to be achieved by year-end 2017 by the company and by the regulatory side has all been achieved.”
But he added: “Tactics have to be worked out and the timing.”