Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi

AMMAN: Sabih al Masri, Jordan’s most influential businessman and the chairman of its largest lender Arab Bank, was detained in Saudi Arabia for questioning after a business trip to Riyadh, family sources and friends said on Saturday.
Masri’s arrest, which follows the biggest purge of the Saudi kingdom’s affluent elite in its modern history, has sent shockwaves through business circles in Jordan and the Palestinian territories, where the billionaire has major investments.
A Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin, Masri was detained last Tuesday hours before he was planning to leave after he chaired meetings of companies he owns, according to the sources.
He is the founder of Saudi Astra Group, which has wide interests in diversified industries ranging from agro-industry to telecommunications, construction and mining across the region.
“Masri was heading to the airport and they told him to stay where you are and they picked him up,” said a source familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.
The Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
Masri, who comes from a prominent merchant family from Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, amassed a fortune from partnering with influential Saudis in a major catering business to supply troops during the US-led military operation to retake Kuwait from Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.
He was elected chairman of Arab Bank in 2012 after the resignation of Abdel Hamid Shoman whose family had founded the bank in Jerusalem in 1930.
The bank, which has earned a reputation of resilience in the face of political upheaval, played a prominent role in supporting former Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat during past Middle East turmoil.
Arab Bank, which operates in 30 countries and five continents, has an extensive network in Palestinian territories where it is the largest bank. It also owns 40 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s Arab National Bank ANB. Masri led consortium of Arab and Jordanian investors who bought a 20 per cent stake in Arab Bank Group from Lebanon’s Hariri family business empire for $1.12 billion last February.
Masri is also the leading investor in the Palestinian territories with a large stake in Paltel, a public shareholding company, which is the largest private sector firm in the West Bank. — Reuters