The bin Laden group was one of the kingdom’s largest building empires. Founded by Osama bin Laden’s father in 1931, it made enormous fortunes due to its proximity to the kingdom’s royal family, but the company is now burdened with debt.
The state took control of the group from the family after some of its members were targeted in the widespread anti-corruption campaign carried out by the Saudi authorities.
Two sources close to the family said that the former president of the company, Bakr bin Laden, the half-brother of Osama, who is in his seventies, has been in custody by the authorities since November 2017 as part of the campaign targeting prominent princes, businessmen and ministers who have been detained in the Ritz Hotel. Carlton in Riyadh.
His two other brothers, Saad and Saleh, were also detained and later released. They were initially forced to wear an electronic tracking bracelet at the ankle to monitor their movements. According to an official document seen by AFP, the government has acquired the three brothers’ 36.2 percent stake in the company.
The sources confirmed that the authorities also confiscated a number of assets and properties, including villas, private planes, and a group of luxury cars, and prevented family members from traveling outside the country. The Saudi government has not publicly referred to any specific charges, while the two sources stated that the family denies any wrongdoing.
One of them told AFP: “The bin Laden family survived the events of 9/11, but could not escape Mohammed bin Salman.”
My “Automated Teller”
Osama bin Laden, Osama’s father, was a Yemeni immigrant who gave birth to more than 50 children from several wives, and founded the company that became an empire valued at billions of dollars through lucrative state contracts under which he built palaces, universities, mosques and highways.
The family came under international scrutiny after the September 11 attacks planned by Usama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda. But the family said they disowned Osama in 1994 because of his activities.
The family business prospered as the kingdom’s wealth grew in the decade that followed with the rise in oil prices. The company won contracts worth tens of billions of dollars during the ten-year rule of former Saudi King Abdullah.
According to one of the sources, the company’s interests were intertwined with the Saudi royal family to the point where Bakr kept a headquarters to work in the royal court, and he served as an “automated teller” for members of the royal family who were asking him for money.
“Since the days of King Abdul Aziz, my grandfather Muhammad bin Laden and my uncles helped build the kingdom and served successive kings, as certified contractors, with unquestionable loyalty and gratitude,” a third-generation bin Laden family member told France Press. “This special relationship has ended with Mohammed bin Salman,” he added.
With Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ascending the throne in 2015, the company faced a new crisis. On September 11, 2015, a crane belonging to the group fell on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing more than a hundred people. The accident prevented the group from taking on new projects for several months.
The two sources explained that the company was also affected by the decline in oil prices in 2014, which led to reduced government income and delayed payment. However, according to one of them, the arrests in the “Ritz-Carlton” were the most damaging to the family. Black SUVs drove Bakr from his villa in Jeddah to the hotel.
Other members of the royal family and wealthy businessmen were summoned to the hotel and subjected to interrogation by investigators. Defenders of the young crown prince contend the crackdown was necessary to combat corruption.
A source close to the Saudi royal court explained to France Press that the bin Laden family “was corrupt like many others (…). Its members were not shot, as is the case in China, for example, but they were placed in the Ritz for several months and allowed to make settlements.” . It was not possible to reach the three brothers from the bin Laden family, while the government did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.
Origins outside the Kingdom
Although he has handed over billions of dollars to the state in the form of assets and stocks, Bakr is still being held in an unknown location, according to family sources. He still possesses “important assets” outside the kingdom that remain out of the government’s reach. He is believed to have kept secrets with his associates about making payments to members of the royal family, according to one of the sources.
The other source said that another reason for the disagreement was the family’s proximity to the former crown prince, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who was toppled, and his ally Saad al-Jabri, a former intelligence official who fled to Canada.
One of the sons of Al-Jabri is married to the daughter of Saad bin Laden. The bin Laden family member emphasized that “the last five years have been very difficult for every member of the family.” “All we want is to turn the page, release my uncle Bakr, and go back to what we are doing better than others, which is building the kingdom,” he said.