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The New Arab

Released Palestinian billionaire returns to Jordan after Saudi 'shakedown'

Masri was detained as part of the crackdown by Mohammed bin Salman [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 December, 2017

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Palestinian billionaire Sabih al-Masri returned to Amman on Tuesday after Saudi authorities secured his release in an unspecified financial settlement, sources close to the matter said, according to Reuters.

Jordan’s most powerful businessman, Palestinian billionaire Sabih al-Masri returned to Amman on Tuesday after Saudi authorities secured his release in an unspecified financial settlement, sources close to the matter said, according to Reuters.

Masri was detained for questioning over his alleged links with Saudi business partners among royals, ministers and officials who were arrested in an unprecedented anti-corruption purge last month.

“He is at his home now in Amman,” said a family source.

On Sunday, Masri, a Saudi citizen, said from his home in Riyadh that the Saudi authorities had accorded him “all respect”. Saudi officials have not commented on his detention, although Jordanian authorities privately said King Abdullah intervened to secure his release.

A source familiar with the matter said Masri was freed after reaching a settlement to return an unspecified amount of money. There was no comment from the Masri family.

“There is no way Masri has been freed without agreeing to some settlement. The Saudis are telling anyone who has made huge sums of money that they have to pay back some of that wealth,” the source said.

Another source said Riyadh saw these settlements not as blackmail but an obligation to reimburse money taken illegally from the world’s top oil producer over several decades.

The Jordanian-Palestinian head of the influential Arab Bank - who also holds Saudi citizenship - was on his way to Riyadh airport when he received a phone call telling him to wait where he was before being detained.

Masri's brief imprisonment follows the arrest of scores of businessmen and royals over alleged corruption.

Now free, Masri's brief imprisonment follows the arrest of scores of businessmen and royals over alleged corruption.

He had been warned by associates not to travel to Saudi Arabia following a purge led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A member of a prominent merchant family from Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Masri amassed a fortune by joining with influential Saudi royals in a catering business to supply troops during the US-led military operation to retake Kuwait from Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

He owns some of Jordan's biggest businesses and richest land in the country. 

He is a huge investor in the Palestinian territories and the founder of the Saudi Astra Group, and his detention sent shockwaves through the hashemite kingdom and Palestine.

Sources said he might have been detained to pressure Jordan's King Abdullah II not to attend a Muslim summit in Istanbul, which was set up for leaders to agree a response to the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

There have been rumours in Amman that the king's decision to stand with the Palestinian Authority on Jerusalem has put Jordan on a collision course with traditional Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE


Links to Jerusalem

There have been rumours in Amman that the king's decision to stand with the Palestinian Authority on the issue has put Jordan on a collision course with traditional Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Gulf powers have been reportedly pressuring the Jordanian leader to accept a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal put forward by the US.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have allegedly threatened economic retaliation against Jordan, unless it agrees to the deal.

Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - and recognise it as the capital of Israel - has caused anger in the region.

Despite Saudi King Salman warning US President Donald Trump against the controversial move, the domestic response has been muted, and appear to be attempting to limit Israeli criticism in Saudi media.

Riyadh has reportedly forbidden peaceful protests in support of the Palestinians or stands of solidarity.

Sources have claimed that Riyadh has ordered media outlets not to focus "too much attention" on Washington's controversial decision.

The Saudi royal court sent a "severe warning" to bosses of newspapers, television and radio stations about the issue which has sparked protests across the Arab world, sources told The New Arab.

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have official relations but various reports have recently emerged of co-operation between the two countries, who share a common foe in Iran.

Dozens of other influential figures and royals detained as part of the crackdown spearheaded by powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman have also been released in recent weeks after agreeing to financial settlements.

Saudi authorities said around 200 people in total have been questioned in the crackdown and estimate they could eventually recover around $100 billion of illicitly held funds.

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