On 27 January 2019, the office of the Ethiopian Prime Minister announced that Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, the prominent
Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire, had been released from detention by the Saudi authorities. Al Amoudi, who was detained in November 2017 as part of the anti-corruption campaign, was freed in January alongside a number of high-profile detainees.
The financial settlement negotiated between Al Amoudi and the Saudi state remains unclear. Our contacts have emphasised that Al Amoudi’s wealth position is hard to clarify and that the authorities have struggled to calculate the sum they can extract from him. The diversified conglomerate Al Muwakaba for Industrial Development, Research and Organisation Committee (known as MIDROC) is Al Amoudi’s key wealth generator but he has numerous assets.
The release of Al Amoudi and other well-known detainees, such as Amr Al Dabbagh and Hani Khoja, likely signals the end of MbS’s anti-corruption crackdown. The timing of the release coincides with mounting international pressure against MbS, especially after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, and a growing requirement for foreign capital. As a result of financial settlements made with the detainees, the Saudi state led by MbS has theoretically filled its coffers: the government reported they had recovered USD 107 billion from 87 detainees in cash, real estate, companies and securities after 381 individuals testified. The exact amount collected to date remains unknown.
Although re-arrests are unlikely, relationships amongst the ruling and business elite have shifted significantly since detentions began in November 2017. The KSA government continues to restrict and survey the movements of released detainees, several of whom have been subject to travel bans, wearing ankle bracelets and monitoring by security guards. On top of this, we assess that 60 individuals referred to prosecution by the Royal Court in January 2019 as part of the investigations are mid-level officials rather than high-profile businesspeople.
MbS and the Saudi authorities will attempt to retain any leverage they gained over the former detainees through the various settlement arrangements. Former detainees may receive implicit threats of formal criminal action should their behaviour not conform to the expectations of the Saudi authorities. Banks and financial institutions will need to keep a close eye on the pattern that emerges around how Saudi authorities treat these former detainees.