Palestinian Arab billionaire arrested in Saudi Arabia

Arab Bank Chairman held in Riyadh. Arab political sources cite attempt to ease pressure on Trump following declaration on Jerusalem.

Mordechai Sones ,

Arab Bank
Arab Bank
Reuters

Sabih al-Masri, one of the most powerful businessmen in Jordan and head of the Arab Bank, was arrested for interrogation in Saudi Arabia, according to Yediot Aharonot. Al-Masri's arrest is stirring up the business world in Jordan and the PA, the two areas where most of the billionaire's investments are held.

Al-Masri's arrest took place against the backdrop of the largest wave of arrests by Saudi authorities against the Saudi elite in recent decades. This morning, sources close to his family reported that Al-Masri had returned to his home in Riyadh and is expected to receive a permit to leave Saudi Arabia soon, but there is no official confirmation.

Al-Masri is a Saudi citizen claiming Palestinian origin, although his name means "the Egyptian" in Arabic and is characteristic of Arabs who moved to Israel from Egypt due to employment opportunities created by the early Zionists. Sources close to him said he was arrested on Tuesday, hours before he was supposed to leave the country. Prior to his arrest, he held a meeting of companies owned by him.

Al-Masri is the founder of the Saudi Astra Group, which invests in a variety of industries - from agronomic industry, to telecommunications, construction, and mining. "He was on his way to the airport and then they told him to stay where he was and picked him up," said one source who disclosed the arrest, as reported by Yediot Aharonot. The paper reported that he canceled a dinner he was due to attend in Amman on Wednesday.

Al-Masri's confidants advised him not to go to Riyadh after the recent wave of arrests, in which royal princes, ministers, and businessmen were arrested. According to sources, during his interrogation, al-Masri replied to questions about his business and his associates. A source close to the family said that al-Masri had been placed under restrictions preventing him from leaving Saudi Arabia.

The reason for Al-Masri's arrest is unknown, but Arab political sources said the Saudis may have used him to pressure King Abdullah of Jordan not to attend the summit of Islamic countries last week over US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This argument is based on the perception that Saudi Arabia has taken a relatively soft stance on Trump's Declaration on Jerusalem relative to other Muslim countries.

Al-Masri is a member of a family of merchants known in the PA city of Shechem (Nablus). He made his fortune by partnering with Saudi officials in a large catering business. This business provided food to the US-led coalition soldiers who liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the first Gulf War in 1991. He was elected Chairman of the Arab Bank in 2012. The Bank played a central role in supporting Yasser Arafat's violent terrorist activity in the Middle East. The bank operates in 30 countries on five continents and has an extensive network of branches in the PA, where it is the largest bank.

Al-Masri played an important role in 2015 in reaching a settlement on a lawsuit filed by hundreds of Americans who accused the Arab Bank of transferring funds used by Palestinian Arabs for terror attacks in Israel.



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