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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Palestinian billionaire released after detention in Saudi Arabia, reports say

Mr Al Masri who is a Saudi citizen, was reportedly detained after heading to the Saudi capital last week to chair meetings of companies he owns

Palestinian billionaire Sabih Al Masri, the chairman of Jordan’s largest lender Arab Bank, was reportedly detained after heading to the Saudi capital last week to chair meetings of companies he owns.

Reports in the Jordan press suggested he returned to Amman on Saturday morning but these could not be independently confirmed.

Mr Al Masri who is a Saudi citizen was being questioned because of information he had pertaining to an ongoing investigation in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi source was not at liberty to disclose any details, according to Rai Al Youm newspaper.

According to Mohammed Daoudia, chairman of Jordan’s Ad Dustour daily and a former minister, Mr Al Masri was back in Jordan. The Jordanian authorities have not yet confirmed his return to the country.

Mr Al Masri had been warned not to travel to Saudi Arabia after mass arrests last month of Saudi princes, officials and businessmen in an anti-corruption crackdown, according to confidants quoted by Reuters.

"He has been answering questions about his business and partners," said a source familiar with the matter who did not elaborate nor confirm he was held. Another family source said he was detained.

Mr Al Masri had cancelled a dinner on Tuesday that he had invited friends and leading businessmen to attend on his return.

Local media reports that he was detained since Thursday sent shockwaves across Jordan where Mr Al Masri's multi-billion dollar investments are a cornerstone of the economy and employ thousands.

He was elected chairman of Arab Bank in 2012 after the resignation of Abdel Hamid Shoman, whose family had founded the bank in Jerusalem in 1930.

He is also the leading investor in the Palestinian territories with a large stake in Paltel, a public shareholding company, which is the largest private sector firm in the West Bank.

Mr Al Masri's family ranks among the wealthiest of Palestinian families, with majority holdings in real estate, hotels and telecommunications firms set up in the territories after a self-rule agreement with Israel in 1993.

He originally comes from a prominent merchant family from Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He amassed a fortune from a catering business set up with Saudi partners to supply troops during the US-led military operation to retake Kuwait from Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.