Authorities in Saudi Arabia made it publicly clear...

Feb 2 , 2019

Authorities in Saudi Arabia made it publicly clear last week that their extensive crackdown against suspects of corruption and embezzlement has come to an end, almost a little over a year after it started in November 2017. They claim to have recovered 107 billion dollars, seven billion dollars more than what they initially anticipated.

Many members of the royal family and billionaires arrested in relation to the corruption investigation were since released after they were compelled to pay billions of dollars their government claimed from them. As recently as two weeks ago, three billionaires were released.

The latest to see the world beyond prison walls was Mohammed Hussien Ali Al-Amoudi (Shiekh), the Ethiopian native Saudi billionaire. He was released the same day Bakr Binladen, the CEO of Saudi Binladen Group, was sent back to jail after he was briefly let out to attend a funeral.

The news of Al-Amoudi’s release created a jubilant mood in Addis Abeba, where his friends and admirers were partying at the Sheraton on Sunday night. The joy was shared by many well-meaning Ethiopians, who wish the tycoon all the better, gossip observed. Not everyone was on the same page though. Some voices deplore his cozy relationship with senior leaders of the EPRDF under the Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn administrations and hold him responsible for the misgivings they have toward them, according to gossip.

However, one of the first in a position of authority to congratulate Al-Amoudi and claim credit for his release was the Office of the Prime Minister, recalling Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) visit to Jeddah in May of last year. He had made his formal request for Al-Amoudi’s release when meeting Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) to announce in public the imminent release of the businessman.

Abiy was not the first to put pressure on the Saudis, gossip recalled. Seyoum Mesfin, the former foreign minister, was the first to fly to Jeddah immediately after Al-Amoudi was arrested, delivering a message from former Prime Minister Hailemariam. Foreign Minister Worqneh Gebeyehu (PhD) too has tried a couple of times, but without getting a firm commitment from the Saudi authorities. The lowest moment for Al-Amoudi’s family, friends and supporters was in December 2018, when an unnamed Saudi official spoke to the international media that Al-Amoudi would face charges of graft.

A breakthrough was nonetheless made during the G8 Summit held in Argentina, in early December the same year, claims gossip. Tedros Adhanom (PhD), a former foreign minister and now chief of the World Health Organization (WHO), met the Crown Prince in Buenos Aires and raised Mohammed’s detention and his desired release. Tedros was allowed to speak to Mohammed on the phone and subsequently managed to visit him in prison in Jeddah, gossip disclosed. Some at the gossip corridors attribute an earlier acquaintance between the Crown Prince and Tedros that led to such an overture.

Al-Amoudi’s release last week was, however, credited not to a particular factor but the convergence of a couple of developments, claims gossip. The process of investigation might have taken its natural course; and, like the rest of the billionaires, Al-Amoudi might have agreed to pay what the Saudis demanded of him. He might have agreed to pay back no less than two billion dollars, claims gossip.

Although released from prison and relieved of the burden of detention, it may be some time before he can travel outside of Saudi Arabia, gossip says. But he is free to meet people travelling there. Already, there are a dozen or so individuals from Addis Abeba that flew to Jeddah late last week to meet their boss, gossip disclosed. There are at least three camps: one led by Abnet G. Mesqel, which stands in contrast with Arega Yirdaw’s (PhD) camp, gossip observed. In between, but less on a personal rapport and focused more on the business side, is Haile Asedgie’s team, claims gossip. Ironically, Al-Amoudi’s empire in Ethiopia is no less polarised than the politics in the nation, claims gossip.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 02,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 979]

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