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A billionaire vanished for 400 days and his empire boomed

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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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Indian billionaires’ wealth rose by Rs 2,200 crore a day in 2018: report

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New Delhi: Indian billionaires saw their fortunes swell by Rs 2,200 crore a day last year, with the top 1 per cent of the country’s richest getting richer by 39 per cent as against just 3 per cent increase in wealth for the bottom-half of the population, an Oxfam study said .Globally, billionaires’ fortunes rose by 12 per cent or USD 2.5 billion a day in 2018, whereas the poorest half of the world’s population saw their wealth decline by 11 per cent, the international rights group said in its annual study released before the start of the five-day World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in this Swiss ski resort town.

Oxfam further said that 13.6 crore Indians, who make up the poorest 10 per cent of the country, continued to remain in debt since 2004.

Asking the political and business leaders who have gathered in Davos for the annual gathering of the rich and powerful of the world to take urgent steps to tackle the growing rich-poor divide, Oxfam said this increasing inequality is undermining the fight against poverty, damaging economies and fuelling public anger across the globe.

 

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, one of the key participants at the WEF summit, said it is “morally outrageous” that a few wealthy individuals are amassing a growing share of India’s wealth, while the poor are struggling to eat their next meal or pay for their child’s medicines.

“If this obscene inequality between the top 1 per cent and the rest of India continues then it will lead to a complete collapse of the social and democratic structure of this country,” she added.

Noting that wealth is becoming even more concentrated, Oxfam said 26 people now own the same as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, down from 44 people last year.

The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to USD 112 billion and just 1 per cent of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 115 million people.

“India’s top 10 per cent of the population holds 77.4 per cent of the total national wealth. The contrast is even sharper for the top 1 per cent that holds 51.53 per cent of the national wealth. The bottom 60 per cent, the majority of the population, own merely 4.8 per cent of the national wealth. Wealth of top 9 billionaires is equivalent to the wealth of the bottom 50 per cent of the population,” Oxfam said while noting that high level of wealth disparity subverts democracy.

Between 2018 and 2022, India is estimated to produce 70 new dollar millionaires every day, Oxfam said.

“It (the survey) reveals how governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, on the one hand, while under taxing corporations and the wealthy, and failing to clamp down on tax dodging on the other,” Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said.
The survey also shows that women and girls are hardest hit by rising economic inequality, he added.

“The size of one’s bank account should not dictate how many years your children spend in school, or how long you live — yet this is the reality in too many countries across the globe. While corporations and the super-rich enjoy low tax bills, millions of girls are denied a decent education and women are dying for lack of maternity care,” Byanyima said.

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Fugitive Choksi surrenders Indian passport in Antigua to ‘avoid extradition’

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Chandigarh:Fugitive tycoon Mehul Choksi has given up his Indian citizenship and surrendered his passport to Antigua, as per media reports.

This move by Choksi’s is being seen as an attempt to avoid his extradition to India. Antigua and India do not have an extradition treaty.

India had earlier handed over a request to Antigua for extradition of Mehul Choksi who is charged in connection with India’s biggest banking fraud, and now living in the Caribbean nation after taking its citizenship.

 

Official sources said a team comprising officials from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and other agencies was sent to Antigua a couple of days ago to request the Antiguan authorities to extradite Choksi, wanted in India in the US$ 2 billion Punjab National bank scam.

As per reports, Antiguan authorities cleared Choksi’s citizenship in November 2017 after India did not give any adverse report to stall his application for it.

Choksi had fled India on January 4 this year and took oath of allegiance in Antigua on January 15. His citizenship was cleared in November 2017.

Choksi’s application for citizenship in Antigua in May 2017 was accompanied with clearance from the local police as required by norms, Antiguan newspaper the Daily Observer reported, citing a statement from the Citizenship by Investment Unit of Antigua and Barbuda (CIU).

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FPI outflow crosses Rs 4,000 crore in Jan so far

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New Delhi: Foreign investors have pulled out more than Rs 4,000 crore from the Indian capital markets so far in January, highlighting their cautious stance towards the country.

This comes following a collective net inflow of over Rs 17,000 crore in the capital markets both equity and debt by Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) during November and December.

Prior to that, they had pulled out a massive Rs 38,905 crore in October.

 

According to data available with the depositories, FPIs withdrew a net amount of Rs 3,987 crore from equities and a net sum of Rs 53 crore from the debt market, taking the total outflow to Rs 4,040 crore during January 1-18.

Market experts believe that FPIs are continuing with their ‘wait and watch’ approach towards India.

Going ahead, the focus would be on the budget, progress on the economic growth front and general elections, they added.

Other factors such as movement in crude prices and currency as well as US-China trade relations will also play a role in FPI flows, they added.

Harsh Jain, COO at Groww, an online MF investment platform, said 2019 is likely to see a lot of volatility because of the rate hikes and dollar instability, but the Indian markets may be able to weather the storm.

“India offers better investment opportunities due to consistent growth, supportive global factors and attract valuations. We should expect positive inflow in coming months,” he added.

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