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Billionaire Sabih al-Masri detained in Saudi Arabia

Arab Bank chairman Sabih al-Masri detained for questioning during business trip to Saudi capital, family members say.

Palestinian billionaire businessman Sabih al-Masri has been detained in Saudi Arabia on a business trip to Riyadh, his family confirmed to Reuters news agency.

The 80-year-old founder of Zara Investment Holding and chairman of Arab Bank was held in the Saudi capital for questioning last week about "information related to corruption", according to Rai al-Youm.

The Arab news website reported on Saturday that no formal charges were made against al-Masri, who reportedly also holds Saudi and Jordanian citizenship.

Al-Masri, one of Jordan's most prominent businessmen, is the cousin of the billionaire Munib al-Masri, the wealthiest person in Palestine.

He also founded the Palestine Securities Exchange, and has managed investment companies and financial economic institutions across the Middle East and beyond, including Arab Bank.

Headquartered in Amman, Arab Bank is Jordan's largest lender and functions as a major economic engine throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Masri's detention sent shockwaves across Jordan where Masri's multibillion-dollar investments are a cornerstone of the economy and employ thousands.

Reuters reported that Masri had cancelled a dinner for friends and business associates that was planned for Tuesday upon his return to Jordan.

Saudi Arabia initiated an anti-corruption purge at the beginning of November, which has implicated some of the country's top officials, businessmen and members of the royal family.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the country.

Many of them are believed to be held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Several had their accounts frozen and ended up on a no-fly list.

The dramatic steps were the latest in a series of measures by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its previous leaders.

Shortly after the first arrests were made in the purge, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.

'Pressure tactic'

Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have put pressure on Jordan to accept the recent US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a heavily stripped-down version of the Palestinian state, according to Jordanian politicians and analysts.

Jordan sided with the Palestinians and rejected US President Donald Trump's Jerusalem decision.

"Bin Salman and the United Arab Emirates are trying to strangle Jordan's economy until it agrees to their terms, submit to their leadership in the region, and agree to Trump's so-called 'ultimate deal'," Wafa Bani Mustafa, a Jordanian MP, said last week referring to Trump's as yet unexplained new plan to bring about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Commenting on Masri's detention, Rami Khouri, a professor and senior fellow at the American University of Beirut, said that the businessman is a "massive figure in Jordan and Palestine".

"The Jordanian government, when it needs money, turns to the Arab Bank to get some advances," Khouri said.

"So this is massive sign that Saudi Arabia is sending to Jordan, that 'we are prepared to rattle your whole economic structure', and to the Palestinians as well, where Masri is a leading investor," he added.

Khouri said that Masri's detention is seen by most analysts as "yet one more tactic" by Riyadh "to try and pressure a smaller, more vulnerable Arab country to fall in line with its wishes", including the US plan for Middle East peace devised for Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and a senior adviser for Trump.

"This is basically another move by Mohammed bin Salman, who effectively runs the country, to bring Jordan and Palestine in line with the Saudi wishes to have a close working relationship with Israel and the US to push through an alleged peace plan that Kushner has been working on to try to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement," said Khouri.

"Everybody who has looked into this and heard about what it contains ... says that this is a totally unrealistic, one-sided Israeli deal that has been pushed by the Americans and now supported by the Saudis," he added.

"The Saudis are desperate to get Jordanian and Palestinian support."


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