Reports have emerged indicating that Saudi Arabia is planning to seize the assets of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the kingdom as part of Riyadh’s so-called anti-corruption campaign apparently targeting the crown prince’s critics and opponents.
The New Arab, citing an unnamed source close to Saudi authorities, reported on Monday that Riyadh is moving to acquire assets still owned by Hariri in the now defunct construction company, Saudi Oger, in return for cancelling outstanding debts.
“The restructuring of Saudi companies whose owners are involved in corruption cases are steaming ahead, starting with the Binladin group and now moving towards Saudi Oger,” the source said.
“Although Saudi Oger does not have many assets left after liquidating its businesses, the authorities are determined to reclaim all funds and assets that were sold off,” added the source.
The source said that the recent arrest of Jordanian-Saudi businessman Sabih al-Masri was also linked to the case of Saudi Oger and Hariri.
Masri, Jordan’s most influential businessman and the chairman of its largest lender Arab Bank, was briefly detained last month during a business trip to Riyadh.
Hariri holds dual Saudi-Lebanese citizenship and has longstanding political and economic ties to the kingdom.
His family had owned a construction business there since the 1970s, but he was forced to close it in July 2017 due to financial reasons.
The once-mighty construction giant, Saudi Oger, has built some of the most grandiose complexes in Riyadh, including the palatial Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which became a luxury prison for Saudi royals and other elites detained in November 2017 on the order of the Saudi Anti-Corruption Committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Most of those detained have struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom.
The crackdown is believed to be a self-promotion campaign aimed at consolidating bin Salman’s power and silencing his critics.
While most of its assets have been transferred, Saudi Oger still has three projects, including a 15-year maintenance and operation contract for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the king’s palace in Tangier and a project in Mecca.
The asset seizure comes after Saudi rulers failed to coerce Hariri into stepping down as Lebanon’s prime minister over his reluctance to confront the Hezbollah resistance movement.
Last November, Hariri declared his surprise resignation from a location in Riyadh, fueling strong beliefs at home and abroad that he had been forced to quit by the Riyadh regime in an attempt to pressure Hezbollah.
A New York Times report later revealed that Hariri, upon arrival in Riyadh, had found himself manhandled by Saudi forces and forced to resign his position.
Hariri, however, managed to get out of the kingdom amid international pressure on Riyadh. He rescinded his resignation after returning home.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the Lebanese premier hailed Hezbollah, a party to his government, for doing its part to deescalate the tensions.