Complex Made Simple

A Saudi detainee, no one is talking about, to pay $billions before release

The Ritz is empty of Saudi detainees.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of Kingdom Holding, Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, founder of media group MBC, and a host of high profile detainees numbering 95 have been released.

They reportedly settled with authorities for billions of dollars.

Some 90 others are likely awaiting trial for failing to settle.

Saudi Bakr bin Laden, chairman of Sauid bin Laden Group (SBG) has reached an agreement with Saudi’s anti corruption committee to relinquish some company shares but his whereabouts are still unknown.

One person, whose whereabouts are known –he’s in custody – but no one is talking about until now, has to pay many billions before he is released.

Who is he?

Related: Ritz cleared of detainees: Saudi Bakr bin Laden asked not to travel?

10 years, $22bn owed

Saudi Arabia has put the gears in motion to end a $22-billion debt dispute that investors are watching closely.

Why?  They need to be convinced of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s commitment to reforms, three sources familiar with the matter recently told Reuters.

“Legal battles over the debts left by Saad Group and Ahmad Hamad al-Gosaibi & Bros Co (AHAB) have dragged on since the two family conglomerates collapsed in 2009, and the two groups have squabbled ever since over which of them is to blame for the meltdown,” said Reuters.

“There has been gradual progress in AHAB’s case with the company making a settlement offer which has the support of around two-thirds of investors, but there has been much less movement over Saad Group’s debts.”

This impatience forced Saudi authorities in October last year to detain Saad Group owner Maan al-Sanea, charging him with unpaid debt.

And since that time al-Sanea family have made legal step forward to end the dispute, the sources told Reuters.

Al-Sanea is also wanted in Bahrain where he has been sentenced to five years in jail in absentia for convictions including breaching central bank rules.

Read: Facebook deals a Kryptonite-like blow to crypto: Prices melting, trust down

Offers to settle

According to Reuters, AHAB and Saad Group owe money to more than 100 international banks including HSBC, BNP Paribas and Citigroup, while Saad Group is also in debt to contractors including Germany’s Siemens AG and some 5000 former hospital staff.

Saad Group took its first big step to engage with creditors last year by hiring a financial consultancy, Reemas Group, to offer a proposed settlement covering $4 billion in debt, Reuters reported.

A 3-judge tribunal set up in 2016 to deal with financial claims against AHAB and Saad group has approved creditor claims of about $3bn against AHAB and appointed liquidators to deal with the unwinding of Saad Group’s business empire,” one of the sources said.

“This is a $20 billion-plus problem for Saudi Arabia and unless it’s handled well it will create a long-term legacy issue for some foreign investors,” said one of the people familiar with the matter.

Is Saudi Vision 2030 in trouble?

Read: Kuwait in big financial trouble again: Large deficit and missing VAT

Saudi PR machine

Al-Sanea’s detention was unrelated to the anti graft probe launched last November 4, but the dispute shares similar investor concerns and confidence levels about graft crackdown and transparency about reached settlements.

The Financial Times that at the last day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Saudi kingdom was being marketed to the world, ‘pressing the message that it was normalising’.

“Following last October’s ‘Davos in the desert’ at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, where a new Saudi was open for business, that same hotel became a prison for some of the country’s wealthiest princes and businessmen just weeks later,” said FT.

“For many at Davos, Saudi Arabia was baffling rather than normalising and while they were fascinated by the boldness of the economic change and social transformation, participants were also alarmed by the crackdown.”

Speaking to Saudi oil minster Khalid al-Falih, FT reported him saying: “(people) look at what was done in Saudi Arabia given Saudi Arabia’s unique status. I call it something of a hygiene issue. We cleaned it up our way.”

“Riyadh nets over $106bn in purge yet if the aim had been to fight corruption, a more transparent campaign would surely have been as effective,” FT said.

Read: Curtain on $100bn Saudi probe falling: Have the tables turned on the kingdom?

The vision remains

According to World Finance, the recent establishment of an official anti-corruption committee has improved fiscal security within the country, providing a more transparent business environment for investors.

Vision 2030, which was first unveiled in 2016, aims at decreasing the country’s reliance on oil and increasing the private sector’s participation in the economy, while attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).

FDI can happen through privatization in sectors like utilities, transport and tourism or investing in upcoming mega cities like NEOM, a $500bn 100% renewable Red Sea city run by robots or 50 virgin islands already attracting Virgin’s CEO Richard Branson.

“The two most important economic reforms at present involve ensuring that public equity markets are aligned with international standards with respect to settlements and ownership, and enhancing women’s participation in key industries, said World Finance.

“The percentage of public equity shares owned by foreigners currently stands at 2% compared with 50% in other emerging markets of a similar size to Saudi Arabia.”

Foreigners can now directly own shares in public equity companies, while the ease of owning shares in private companies is increasing.

Saudi is set to increase the share of women in the labour force from a current 22%.

Oil still represents approximately 85% of government revenues and was 70% responsible for government spending in 2017.

Saudi introduced a 5% VAT in 2018 and new fees for expat dependents.