Investigators working for creditors of the debt-laden Saudi business empire of the al Gosaibi family have unearthed evidence of gold shipments apparently linked to two family companies just as their financial situation was worsening. Documents seen by The National reveal that some 10.4 tonnes of gold, worth about US$430 million (Dh1.57 billion) at current prices, was shipped from Australia between November last year and May this year, when the public battle first erupted between the al Gosaibis and Maan al Sanea, the entrepreneur who controls Saad Group.
Most of the bullion ended up in accounts linked to Al Gosaibi companies at the London vaults of Standard Bank of South Africa. Smaller quantities, still worth tens of millions of dollars, were delivered to Dubai and to Zurich, in Switzerland. Inquiries by the creditor banks have so far failed to determine whether the bullion is still in the locations to which it was delivered. The banks want to locate assets owned by the Al Gosaibi and Saad businesses to offset some of the estimated $22bn they are owed by the Saudi groups.
A spokesman for the al Gosaibis, Jim Courtovich of the Washington lobbyists Kearsarge Global Advisors, said: "To the extent there were such transactions, they were not done with the authority or knowledge of the al Gosaibi family and the al Gosaibis never received any gold or revenues attributable to the sale of gold." The London law firm of Harbottle & Lewis, acting for Mr al Sanea, declined to comment. Sources close to the Kuwaiti-born financier said he was not involved in the transactions.
The documents show the gold shipments were financed by letters of credit from either The International Banking Corporation (TIBC) or from Awal Bank, both of which were put into administration by the Bahrain central bank last June. These letters were backed by international banks. Of the 15 shipping documents, 10 had references to Awal, Mr al Sanea's bank, with the rest referred to TIBC, which belonged to the Al Gosaibi group.
Banking sources, who requested anonymity, said informal requests to Standard Bank had so far not produced any confirmation of the shipments, the ownership of the bullion, or its current location. In South Africa, a spokesman for Standard said: "Our executives in London are adamant they cannot comment - not even off the record - as this would be a breach of client confidentiality." Since the first shipment a year ago, the price of gold has risen by nearly 50 per cent. Last night it closed at $1176.50 an ounce, close to an all-time high.
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