Maan al Sanea, the Kuwaiti-born billionaire alleged to be at the centre of one of the Middle East's biggest corporate scandals, has hit back for the first time against his accusers, the al Gosaibi family of Saudi Arabia. In a hard-hitting document lodged in the London High Court, Mr al Sanea, who has had his worldwide assets of US$9.2 billion (Dh33.79bn) frozen by courts in London and the Cayman Islands, claims:
That he has already been exonerated by the Saudi authorities of any involvement in financial wrongdoing in the kingdom; That the al Gosaibi family has used him as the fall guyfor their own financial losses during the credit crisis; and That he was the target of "years of jealousies and antipathy" from the Saudi family. Mr al Sanea also claims the al Gosaibis, who run the family conglomerate Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers, have had their travel outside the kingdom halted "by Royal decree", and their assets frozen, but that many of them have "very considerable sums" in bank accounts outside Saudi Arabia, including in Switzerland.
The allegations are contained in an affidavit filed by Mr al Sanea, the head of the Saad conglomerate, in London, a copy of which has been obtained by The National. Mr al Sanea tried unsuccessfully last week to lift a freeze order on his financial assets worldwide. The document represents the first time Mr al Sanea, who is connected to the al Gosaibis by marriage, has responded in detail to their claims that he stole $10bn from them in a sustained campaign of fraud, forgery and embezzlement. He rejects the claims.
The document will add further fuel to the scandal in Saudi Arabia, where it has already caused embarrassment at the highest levels. In the most revealing section, Mr al Sanea claims the affair, which has also raised doubts about the financial security of the kingdom's huge family-owned business sector, has already been examined "by the highest authorities", and that he has been told he was not found to have committed any wrongdoing.
A committee, including representatives from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, the Capital Markets Authority and the fraud division of the ministry of the interior, has "examined Al Gosaibi's complaints against me and did not accept them", Mr Al Sanea says he was told shortly before the Eid al Fitr holiday. Mr al Sanea alleges that "mention was made of deceit emanating" from Saud al Gosaibi, the family patriarch, and that over the years the Al Gosaibi group "incurred large financial risks towards third-party financial institutions".
"Following the credit crunch it became increasingly difficult for Al Gosaibi to meet those obligations, and it has failed to do so now and in many instances," he alleges in his affidavit. "Al Gosaibi in desperation has sought to shift the blame for its predicament to me by pretending it did not enter into, or even know of, the billions of dollars of financial obligations it had incurred over the years - Such suggestions were utter nonsense - This is all because of years of family jealousies, antipathies and so forth."
Mr al Sanea says the allegations compounded his own financial problems: "These pressures only became worse when I also had to face, as a result of the baseless allegations of Al Gosaibi, many additional claims against me and my companies by banks and other entities - In all the circumstances there has not been time to deal in detail with any, or with the demands, of foreign proceedings." Mr al Sanea was recently reported to have reached a settlement with his creditors in Saudi Arabia, estimated to be owed some $5bn, in a deal which caused outrage among foreign creditors.
The Saad chief claims he was aware that the assets of 20 members of the al Gosaibi family and their companies were frozen by the authorities in Saudi Arabia in June. "Shortly before Eid al Fitr the freezing [was] extended to cover members of the partners' family and their children because of concerns that the original freezing order was being bypassed through the use of family members' bank accounts and a Royal decree was also handed down forbidding them to travel," he claims in the affidavit.
A spokesman for the al Gosaibis, Jim Courtovich of the Washington firm Kearsarge Global Advisers, said: "The allegations Al Gosaibi has made about Maan al Sanea's $9.2 billion fraud scheme have been based on significant evidence and facts researched by some of the best legal and forensic experts in the world. "This is not a war of words but one of facts, an area where Al Gosaibi will clearly prevail."