x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Caymans court rejects al Sanea trial delay bid

Maan Al Sanea loses latest court challenge in Caymans against Al Gosaibi family.

A court in the Cayman Islands has rejected a move by Maan al Sanea, the Saudi Arabian businessman caught up in one of the Middle East's long-est-running corporate scandals, to delay the start of a fraud trial.

Mr al Sanea, whose Saad Group is involved in a bitter battle with the al Gosaibi business family of Saudi, wanted to appeal to London to have the case delayed in the Caymans pending a resolution in Saudi Arabia.

But a judgment by the island's appeal court, under its president Sir John Chadwick, rejected his application last week. Courts in the Caymans, a British overseas territory, are ultimately answerable to the UK's highest court, the Privy Council.

The ruling is a setback for Mr al Sanea, who has been trying to persuade authorities in the Caymans that allegations of fraud made against him by the al Gosaibis should be resolved in Saudi Arabia, and his assets in the Caymans unfrozen.

He has denied all the allegations and is contesting the jurisdiction of the Cayman Islands to hear the case.

In his judgment, Justice Chadwick agreed with an earlier Caymans ruling that "the Cayman Islands was the jurisdiction in which the claims in these proceedings could be appropriately tried in the interests of all parties".

The Caymans ruling may hasten a fraud trial against Mr al Sanea, but he still has the option to appeal directly to London over the heads of the Caymans' authorities.

Mr al Sanea's representatives declined to comment on the Caymans judgment, but he is said to be considering a direct appeal to the Privy Council. He has 56 days from the date of the judgment, last Monday, to decide.

A lawyer close to the proceedings said: "This is the Cayman court telling him to get on with it and defend himself."

The Caymans ruling is the latest legal twist in a saga that has led to action in courts in the US, Britain, other parts of Europe and the Gulf.

International and Middle East creditors are seeking the recovery of as much as US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) in liabilities owed by Mr al Sanea and Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi & Brothers, the partnership that controls the family business from Al Khobar in eastern Saudi.

This week it was confirmed that Saudi banks had filed claims totalling $2.4bn against the Al Gosaibi group, as reported in The National last month. The largest claim is from Saudi Investment Bank, which is seeking the return of 2bn riyals (Dh1.95bn) from the Al Gosaibi group.

Eric Lewis, the lawyer acting for the al Gosaibis, said: "The family is committed to recovering these funds and to work with the banks towards a fair and just solution."

It is believed Mr al Sanea reached a deal with Saudi creditors last year, although there have been no details of the terms of any settlement.

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, where the affair first broke after the default of two banks connected to Mr al Sanea and the Al Gosaibi group in May 2009, the authorities are considering their next move.

Legal sources in Manama say the Bahrain public prosecutor is examining a report by the corporate investigations company Kroll into the events that led to the defaults.

Two Kroll executives and a Bahraini accountant conducted the investigation, commissioned by the public prosecutor, a year ago and completed their report at the end of November.

The public prosecutor's office and other representatives of the Bahrain government have so far declined to comment on the report, or on any action they might take as a result of its findings.

A legal source in Bahrain, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the report had been discussed with officials and lawyers in Saudi Arabia.

fkane@thenational.ae