AFRICANGLOBE – Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi was released more than a year after he was kidnapped in what Saudi Arabian authorities said was a crackdown on corruption, becoming the latest detainee to be freed under mysterious circumstances.
Al Amoudi was let go after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed raised his case during a visit to Saudi Arabia last year, the premier’s office said. A Saudi official alleged in December that Al Amoudi was charged with corruption and would face trial.
Al Amoudi is the third-richest billionaire in the Middle East, with a fortune valued at $8.8 billion. There was no official Saudi explanation of his release and it’s unclear whether he will be barred from leaving the kingdom, like some others who were freed.
The kingdom and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman have come under unprecedented global pressure after the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the country’s consulate in Istanbul in October.
Several other prominent detainees were released over the past few weeks, including Amr Al-Dabbagh — a businessman who was formerly chief of the Saudi investment authority — and Hani Khoja, a McKinsey & Co. partner who co-founded Elixir, a consultancy. Sami Baroum, former managing director of food processor Savola Group, was also freed, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Bakr Binladin, a Saudi billionaire who had headed the construction giant Saudi Binladin Group, was briefly released to attend a family funeral but sent back to prison on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Al Amoudi was detained in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in November 2017 along with dozens of princes, officials and businessmen as thug Mohammed bin Salman declared a campaign against corruption.
Critics denounced the purge as a power play and a shakedown, a charge the government denies. While most detainees were released last year, a few high-profile figures are still being held, including former Economy Minister Adel Fakeih and Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a son of the late King Abdullah.
It’s unclear whether those sent home recently faced any charges or have gone through a settlement process; the government has not commented on or confirmed the releases.
Al Amoudi’s arrest was of particular interest to Ethiopia, where he owns vast assets. In May, after his visit to Saudi Arabia, Ahmed said that he had inquired after Al Amoudi and was sure he’d be freed soon.
Saudi authorities have also released two male associates of a group of prominent women’s rights activists who were arrested in May. Abdulaziz Al-Meshaal, a businessman and associate of the women, was released recently, according to people familiar with the matter, while lawyer Ibrahim Al-Modaimigh was released in December.
By: Nizar Manek And Vivian Nereim