HSBC, one of the largest creditors to the indebted Al Gosaibi business family of Saudi Arabia, faces a court battle over property owned by the family in London's wealthy West End.
The bank is one of five that won an order against the Al Gosaibis to repay a total of US$250 million (Dh918.2m) in June, but yesterday a London judge gave HSBC priority over the others to seek repayment of some of its debts from five properties owned by the Al Gosaibis in London's Mayfair district.
The family owes HSBC about US$80m. The other banks are BNP Paribas, British Arab Commercial Bank, Arab Banking Corporation, and Crédit Agricole.
The ruling could spark a scramble among creditors to get their hands on Al Gosaibi assets outside Saudi Arabia.
The legal and accounting firms that have advised the family during its two-year battle against Maan Al Sanea, the Saudi businessman who married into the family, have also taken charges against the properties.
Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Brothers, the family partnership, has alleged fraud, theft and forgery by Mr Al Sanea amounting to about $10 billion, allegations he has consistently denied. The company and Mr Al Sanea between them owe an estimated $16m to about 100 banks.
The five properties named yesterday are in or near London's Grosvenor Square, one of the city's most affluent areas. No value was placed on them by the court, but a source close to the affair said they could be worth more than £15m (Dh86.1m).
A trial over ownership of the properties is scheduled to begin in November. The Al Gosaibi advisers - the UK law firm Withers, the international accounting firm Deloitte, and the New York lawyers Baach Robinson & Lewis - registered charges with the UK land authorities in June, days after the family lost the London court case.
Creditors are believed to be searching for other assets owned by the Al Gosaibis outside Saudi Arabia.
The family has told the London court that its ruling is unenforceable in Saudi Arabia, where the family's main businesses - construction, property, industrial processes and bottling - are concentrated.
It has also told the court it cannot pay the $250m awarded in June.
In response to the London court order, the chairman of the family partnership, Yousef Ahmad Al Gosaibi, has identified about $2.13bn in assets in the kingdom, but most are restricted from sale by a freezing order imposed by the Saudi government, or pledged to Saudi creditors against debts there.
The value and status of other Middle East assets - in the UAE, Jordan and Tunisia - are unclear. For example, a 50 per cent stake in the Crown Middle East Can Company of Jordan is valued at 454m Saudi riyals (Dh444.6m), but is marked "attached" on the asset schedule. A similar holding in the Crown Maghreb Can Company of Tunisia is valued at 60m riyals, but is unattached.
The family is also believed to have property and other assets in Switzerland and Lebanon, and there are connections to companies in Panama and Liberia. Both the family and HSBC declined to comment on the London ruling.