Saudi Binladin Group denies govt takeover after chief detained

View of the Binladin Group headquarters in Jeddah (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Mahmoud)

Riyadh (AFP) – Saudi construction giant Binladin Group denied Saturday any state takeover after its chairman was detained, but said some shares may have been transferred to the government.

The firm, which has been forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers due to financial problems, said it remained a private shareholding company and was undergoing restructuring.

International media this week reported Saudi Arabia’s government had taken over the firm after chairman Bakr bin Laden was detained.

The Saudi Binladin Group “would like to confirm that it remains a private sector company owned by its shareholders”, it said in a statement.

But some company shares may have been transferred to the government in a settlement of “outstanding dues”, it added, without providing any details on the size of any such shares.

“Based on information available to the management, some of the shareholders may have agreed (to) a settlement that involves transferring some SBG shares to the government of Saudi Arabia against outstanding dues,” it said.

The group’s chairman was among dozens of high-profile political and business figures arrested two months ago in a crackdown on corruption ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi authorities said they were negotiating financial settlements with those detained that could earn state coffers about $100 billion.

Some of those jailed at the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh have been released after agreeing to a settlement with the government.

But the chairman is among several other suspects who are still in detention. These also include Saudi billionaire prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Established in 1931, the Binladin Group is one of the most powerful companies in the oil-rich kingdom.

It belongs to the family of the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in 2011.

The firm has encountered serious difficulties in the past few years.

It laid off around 77,000 foreign workers in 2016, after the government delayed payments due to a slump in oil revenues.

It also faced unprecedented scrutiny after one of its cranes working on a major expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, collapsed in 2015, killing at least 107 people.

The firm had been working for years on the multi-billion-dollar project to accommodate the increasing numbers of Muslim pilgrims to the site.

A Saudi court in October cleared the company of responsibility for the accident.

On Saturday, the group said that its contracted work with the government would continue, especially at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and another mosque in the holy city of Medina.

It also said it had formed a committee to oversee its restructuring towards the firm “being profitable again”.

Saudi Arabia has posted large budget deficits in the past four fiscal years and is projected to remain in the red until 2023 due to low oil prices.

The drop in oil revenues also led to the demise of Saudi Oger, a once-mighty construction firm linked to Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri.

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