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A billionaire vanished for 400 days and his empire boomed

Agencies

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London: More than a year ago, he vanished into the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, along with dozens of Saudi princes and businessmen.

Before long, rumors swirled: Was the billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi even alive?
Now, at last, comes the answer. Al Amoudi, is ‘still alive’ and will stand trial at some point for corruption and bribery, according to a Saudi official, who asked not to be identified.

What’s remarkable about his situation is that despite his prolonged detainment, a result of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on graft in the Kingdom, the bulk of Al Amoudi’s global business empire has boomed.

 

Sales at his Sweden-based oil refiner Preem AB have surged more than 30 percent and his Stockholm office properties have risen in value. Since being seized by security forces in Riyadh last year, his net worth has climbed by about 6 percent to $8.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 richest people.

The situation highlights the contradictions and absurdities of being a wealthy Saudi under the de facto reign of the crown prince, whose embargo of Qatar, war in Yemen and alleged role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have shocked the world but prompted little apparent change in his agenda.

A Saudi official who asked not to be identified confirmed Thursday that the billionaire is in custody, though no trial date has been set. Al Amoudi has been in touch with relatives and is reported to be in good health, according to his spokesman, Tim Pendry. He disputed that Al Amoudi has been officially charged with any wrongdoing and declined further comment.

Al Amoudi, whose fortune can be traced to a Saudi government contract during the reign of King Fahd, has accumulated $7.6 billion of assets outside the Kingdom and owns businesses employing thousands of people in Europe and Africa. But as the past year’s events prove, his earliest benefactor — the Saudi royal family — still holds sway.

The Ethiopian-born businessman is one of several high-profile individuals still detained in the corruption crackdown. Among those believed to still be held include Prince Turki bin Abdullah, son of the late King Abdullah.

Most of the other businessmen and princes have been released after agreeing to hand over more than $100 billion in cash and assets. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who chalked up his detention to “a misunderstanding,” is once again making deals and borrowing huge sums. Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the former head of the National Guard who forked over $1 billion in bail, was seen meeting with King Salman.

The veneer of normalcy betrays an anxiety quietly gripping wealthy Saudis who are increasingly looking to move money abroad or even leave.

“Liquid assets were shifted out quite quickly after the purge,” said Marcus Chenevix, an analyst at investment research firm TS Lombard in London. The crackdown targeted wealthy members of the business elite from Jeddah in particular, a group — Al Amoudi included — who prospered in part through ties to King Abdullah and King Fahd. King Salman was a former governor of Riyadh and things were “tense from the moment he came in,” Chenevix said.

In Sweden, where Al Amoudi’s Preem is the country’s biggest fuel company, business is proceeding as normal, with a few adjustments. Last month, Preem announced it had replaced Al Amoudi as chairman with a former global head of corporate finance at Morgan Stanley, Jason Milazzo. The company’s statement acknowledged it had “no further confirmed information” regarding its missing sole shareholder.

Both Fitch and S&P Global, which rate Preem’s debt, have given rosy assessments of its credit health. Yes, the sole shareholder of the $5 billion company has been missing for months, but the operations haven’t been affected, the analysts wrote. Al Amoudi “was not really involved in the day-to-day management of the business,” Fitch analyst Vladislav Nikolov said.

Al Amoudi’s brother Hassan has been granted power of attorney, according to a June 30 presentation from Preem’s parent company, Corral Petroleum. The brother, who owns a furniture factory in Jeddah, isn’t otherwise involved in the business, spokesman Pendry said.

Preem, whose bright signs adorn hundreds of gas stations throughout Sweden, is responsible for almost a third of the Nordic region’s refining capacity. Al Amoudi’s 100 percent stake is worth $5.1 billion. He also owns an $835 million oil explorer, a home builder, commercial real estate and various industrial businesses, making him one of Sweden’s largest private investors.

While Al Amoudi delegated day-to-day management to other executives, his deep pockets were helpful in the harshly cyclical energy industry. A 2016 bond prospectus by Corral Petroleum highlighted Al Amoudi’s ranking on global wealth lists and “continued commitment” to the company in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars of shareholder loans and contributions.

None of the billionaire’s business associates has publicly sought answers from Saudi Arabia on Al Amoudi’s predicament. The only outspoken advocate for Al Amoudi’s release has come from Ethiopia, where the billionaire is the largest single private investor. His assets there, which include land holdings, gold mines, coffee plantations, a fuel company and hotels, are conservatively valued at $1.2 billion.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told state media in May he was confident Al Amoudi’s release was imminent after he made a personal appeal to the crown prince. In August, Ahmed told reporters he’d gotten word from Saudi officials that the industrialist’s release was being postponed for “some proceedings” and vowed to keep up the pressure.

“Sheikh Al Amoudi’s detention is a national issue,” Ahmed said.


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Business

Sensex sheds 298.82 to close at 38,811; Nifty shrinks to 11,650

Press Trust of India

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Mumbai: The benchmark BSE Sensex erased early gains to end 299 points lower Thursday as investors booked profits after stocks soared to record highs after BJP’s strong showing in the Lok Sabha polls.

Sensex and NSE Nifty went on to record highs even as Lok Sabha election results showed that PM Modi-led NDA leading on over 300 seats. However after the euphoria during the morning session, Sensex shed 298.82 to close at 38,811 and Nifty shrank to 11,650 on the closing bell.

During the day, the Sensex hit the 40,000 mark while the Nifty crossed the 12,000-level for the first time ever. However, the indices succumbed to profit booking towards the fag-end of the session.

 

The 30-share Sensex tumbled 298.82 points, or 0.76 per cent, to close at 38,811.39. Similarly, the broader NSE Nifty settled 80.85 points, or 0.69 per cent, lower at 11,657.05.

IndusInd Bank was the biggest gainer in the Sensex pack, rallying 5.23 per cent, followed by Hero MotoCorp, Coal India, Yes Bank, PowerGrid, ICICI Bank, HCL Tech, L&T, Kotak Bank and Bharti Airtel, rising up to 1.56 per cent. On the other hand, Vedanta, ITC, Tata Motors, HDFC twins, Bajaj Finance, Sun Pharma, Tata Steel, TCS, ONGC and Infosys fell up to 5.53 per cent.

Riding on a massive Modi wave sweeping through most parts of India, the BJP was set to return to power Thursday as it led in 298 seats while the Congress trailed far behind with 52, according to trends released by the Election Commission for all 542 seats that went to polls.

“Markets were initially enthused to see the election results falling in line with the exit polls. However, the run up to the D-day was so sharp that it turned out to be a sell on news phenomenon,” said Devang Mehta, Head – Equity Advisory, Centrum Wealth Management.

Participants would now be keen to know the future course of action for bringing the economy back on track, solution to the liquidity situation, the union budget, onset and progress of monsoon in June and most importantly the earnings trajectory, he added.

According to traders, weak cues from other global markets and a depreciating rupee also weighed on investor sentiment. The rupee depreciated 37 paise to 70.04 against the US dollar in afternoon trade. Globally, bourses in Asia ended in the red.

Indices in Europe were also trading on a negative note in early deals. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, was trading 1.79 per cent lower at USD 69.72 per barrel.

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Silver up on increased offtake; gold steady

Press Trust of India

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New Delhi: Silver prices rallied by Rs 200 to Rs 37,400 per kg in the national capital on Thursday, while gold held steady, according to the All India Sarafa Association.

Traders said silver prices rose on pick-up in offtake by industrial units and coin makers at the local spot market. Globally, spot gold was trading marginally higher at USD 1,276 an ounce, while silver was slightly up at USD 14.53 an ounce in New York.

In the national capital, gold of 99.9 per cent and 99.5 per cent purity dropped by Rs 10 each to Rs 32,670 per ten 10 gram and Rs 32,500 per 10 gram. Sovereign gold, however, held steady at Rs 26,500 per eight gram.

 

Silver ready surged Rs 200 to Rs 37,400 per kg, while weekly-based delivery fell by Rs 66 to Rs 36,234 per kg. Silver coins held flat at Rs 79,000 for buying and Rs 80,000 for selling of 100 pieces.

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India PC mkt declines 8.3 per cent to 2.15 mn units in Jan-Mar qarter

Press Trust of India

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New Delhi: Personal Computer (PC) shipment in India fell by 8.3 per cent in the January-March quarter of 2019 to 2.15 million units, registering a year-on-year decline for the third consecutive quarter, according to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC).

Besides, big commercial deals, market remained weak due to weak consumer demand, high inventory from previous quarters, and supply issues for Intel chips.

Shipments in the consumer segment saw a 26.5 per cent dip in the said quarter compared to the year-ago period. The commercial PC market saw a total shipment of 1.35 million units in the said quarter, a growth of 7.3 per cent over last year.

 

“The announcement of central elections on March 10, 2019 resulted in the model code of conduct coming into immediate effect further resulting in a delay in execution of government projects and impacting the commercial segment,” IDC said in a statement.

However, IDC expects the overall PC market in India to witness a growth in the second quarter. The commercial market is expected to pick up post new government formation in May, while the consumer market is expected to pick up largely driven by back to school campaign by vendors and online sales.

HP maintained its leadership position with an overall market share of 28.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2019, followed by Dell (25.9 per cent), Lenovo (25.2 per cent) and Acer (11.7 per cent).

The notebook PC (laptop) category accounted for 61.4 per cent of the shipment and witnessed a 9.8 per cent year-on-year decline.

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