Saudi Billionaires Said to Seek Ring Fencing Assets Amid Purge

Light trails from traffic illuminate highways surrounded by residential buildings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. Saudi Arabian stocks led Gulf Arab markets lower after oil extended its slump from the lowest close since 2004. Photographer: Waseem Obaidi/Bloomberg

Wealthy Saudis are seeking to restructure their businesses to ring fence assets in case authorities widen their declared crackdown on corruption, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Several family groups and businessmen who aren’t implicated in the purge are talking to local banks and international law firms about how to structure their companies to make it harder for the kingdom to confiscate or seize assets, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

One option could be to split assets between more than one holding company, one of the people said, though it’s not clear how successful these plans could be because the government is closely scrutinizing business activity in the kingdom as part of the crackdown, he said.

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Such discussions reflect the fear among many wealthy Saudis that the unprecedented purge, which is seen by many as an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to tighten his grip on power, is set to widen. Dozens of officials, princes, and billionaires, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose Kingdom Holding Co. owns stakes in companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Twitter Inc., have already been targeted.

Shifting Assets

Some Saudi billionaires and millionaires are selling investments in neighboring Gulf countries and turning them into cash or liquid holdings overseas to avoid the risk of getting caught up in the sweep, people familiar with the matter said this month. Few, however, are trying to shift money out of Saudi Arabia amid fears of attracting unwanted attention from authorities, they said.

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The crackdown has involved some of the kingdom’s richest families who for decades have benefited from close relations with the country’s rulers. These ties have helped them win major contracts and partner with international companies seeking a foothold in the Arab world’s biggest economy.

One senior Saudi official, who asked not to be named, said over the weekend suspects are being offered settlements to avoid trial. If they accept, talks are held with a special committee to work out the details. Authorities estimate they may be able to recover between $50 billion and $100 billion from settlement agreements, the official said.

Source Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek

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