The Saudi Binladin construction group said some shareholders may have handed over stakes in the company as the kingdom’s anti-corruption drive starts to take assets claimed by the government.
The Jeddah-based company said over the weekend that it remained a “private sector company owned by its shareholders”. Its government contracts, which make up the majority of its business, continue to be fulfilled, it added, including projects at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
“Based on information available to management, some of the shareholders may have agreed a settlement that involves transferring some [Saudi Binladin Group] shares to the government of Saudi Arabia against outstanding dues,” the company said.
The powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in November launched an audacious corruption crackdown, detaining more than 150 princes, ministers and business magnates in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, including Bakr bin Laden, SBG’s chairman, and some of his brothers.
The company said it is working with a government committee on a restructuring plan to separate ownership from management and remains “optimistic” about the latest developments.
People close to the family said Bakr bin Laden has, along with his brothers, handed over stakes to the government.
The family, whose members include Osama bin Laden, is also expected to transfer some of its extensive property holdings as part of the settlement. None of the specific corruption allegations against the family has come to light.
The government owes billions of dollars in unpaid invoices to the highly indebted company, say bankers aware of the matter, complicating restructuring attempts.
The SBG announcement provides the first proof that those who have been detained are reaching financial settlements with the authorities, bargaining for their freedom by handing over assets or cash.
People aware of the matter say some have already been released from custody after agreeing to pay assets and cash in lieu of criminal proceedings on graft charges. Others have been released from the Ritz for lack of evidence.
The authorities, who hope to recover about $100bn, are still negotiating settlements with some who have so far refused to sign a financial deal, such as billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Those who refuse to settle could soon be transferred to regular prison pending trial, said one person aware of the matter.
SBG, once the kingdom’s leading contractor, has fallen on hard times in recent years.
In the wake of the oil price collapse in 2014, the government cancelled contracts and delayed payments to construction companies carrying out many of the grandiose infrastructure projects launched during the boom years.
In 2016, SBG — which at its height employed more than 100,000 — laid off tens of thousands of workers as the order books dried up, sparking protests and riots by employees.
The Indian government was forced to intervene, distributing emergency aid to its nationals sacked by their employer and stranded in the kingdom without food and insufficient funds to return home.
Additional reporting by Patrick Jenkins in London