The first troubling signs that Mohammed Ali Al-Amoudi (Sheikh) …

The first troubling signs that Mohammed Ali Al-Amoudi (Sheikh) may, after all, have faced trying times was on November 4, 2017. It was mid-day on Saturday when the newly built headquarters of the Dashen Bank, where some of his companies own majority shares, was to be inaugurated, graced with the presence of President Mulatu Teshome (PhD).

Despite the wait for a couple of hours, Abinet G. Meskel and Jemal Ahmed, two among Al-Amoudi’s chums in Ethiopia, were unable to assure his presence in what was the most important event to Teka Asfaw, the outgoing chairman of Dashen’s board of directors, says gossip. Little did they know at the time that an extraordinary and unparalleled development in his home country, Saudi Arabia, deterred him from coming to Ethiopia, claims gossip.

Al-Amoudi had left for Dubai four days before his fateful detention by Saudi authorities on November 4. He had confided to close associates who travelled with him there that he would go to Riyadh for two days and planned to return to Dubai before he would fly back to Addis on Saturday, just to make it to the inaugural ceremony, claims gossip.

He is now one of the 208 high profile Saudi citizens detained in a luxurious hotel in Riyadh, Ritz-Carlton, with 1,700 domestic accounts frozen, for being under investigations for what the House of Saud claims is misappropriations of no less than 100 billion dollars over the decades. Among the list of detainees are 49 princes, including Miteb Bin Abdullah (Prince), now former commander of Saudi’s National Guard and Alwaleed Bin Talal (Prince), the wealthiest prince in the Kingdom.

The son of the late King Abdullah, Miteb is known to be a very powerful prince, with a strong tribal following in central Arabia; it is this Prince and his father, King Abdullah, Al-Amoudi has reportedly been very close to, claims gossip.

King Abdullah died in 2015, serving only 10 years as a King but leaving a legacy of unprecedented reforms behind to a conservative society and opening up the Saudi economy. One of his five brothers, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, succeeded him; the latter installed one of his two sons, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as a Crown Prince, after deposing his nephew, Muhammed Nayef (Prince), in June 2017, from all his official duties. He was a powerful minister of the interior as well as defence before that.

On the surface, Saudi authorities attribute the recent crackdown on princes and billionaires as part of a broader plan by Salman to reform the Saudi economy to a more diversified and privatised structure. It is an economy that spends 100 billion dollars a year on subsidies; this sustains an unbearable budget deficit of 52 billion dollars.

It has also compelled Prince Salman to introduce too many sweeping reforms both in the economy (cutting subsidies and imposing austerity) and social  fronts (allowing women to drive and pushing the country to religious moderations), causing anxiety among the conservative leadership but making him very popular among young Saudis on the streets.

Nonetheless, beneath the surface is a dangerous power struggle Salman has been locked into with Miteb bin Abdullah, ever since Saudi launched an aggressive intervention in Yemen in 2015, an overture the latter was not aware of when it started although he was head of the National Guard. The most costly military engagement in Yemen has no doubt created tensions between the two powerful princes, before Salman removed Miteb from the National Guard two weeks ago, only a few hours after his father announced the formation of an anti-corruption committee.

The detention of Al-Amoudi is one piece of this larger picture, claims gossip. Although no formal charges were brought against any of the detainees, Al-Amoudi’s case could be linked to his failed acquisition of an oil refinery in Morocco (where the royal family there are known to be close to Salman) and more so to his investment in the Gambella Regional State, under Saudi Star, claims gossip.

Al-Amoudi is believed to have received funds in hundreds of millions of dollars from the Saudi Agricultural Development Fund to develop a mechanised rice farm in Gambella, which has yet to go beyond sending sample harvest to the late Saudi King a few years ago, claims gossip. The question in the minds of many in town remains for how long Al-Amoudi stays in detention and the impact this may have on his no less than 77 companies in Ethiopia, as it could be elsewhere too, gossip noticed.

Although his office in London put out a statement last week reassuring that his overseas investments remain unaffected – and Arega Yirdaw (PhD), CEO of MIDROC Technologies Group, echoed the message during a meeting with over 4,000 staffs employed by 24 companies – those at the gossip corridors foresee an inevitable snowball effect. Yet, to oversee the smooth operations of many of Al-Amoudi’s interests in Ethiopia and to ensure coordination among the various managers, one of his four brothers is due to arrive in Addis earlier this week, gossip disclosed.

Published on Nov 13,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 916]



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