Skip to content

Whatever Became of Mohammed al Amoudi? And Why Haven’t the Saudis Released Him?

November 17, 2018

Ethiopian Women, Gambella, Ethiopia, home of the al Amoudi Saudi Star Rice Farm, producing rice for Saudi Arabia

(Author’s note: It had been my purpose in this piece to explore al Amoudi’s long standing economic interests in Ethiopia and his long term ties to the dictatorship in that country which was just partially removed from power by the selection of the new prime minister, Ahmed Abey, who has given hope to a new dawn both to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian diaspora. But if one is persistent enough, research takes one far and wide as it did below. That said, in order to understand Mohammed al Amoudi’s defining role in Ethiopia, it helps to read this particular intro. At least that is what I hope. The “Ethiopian connection” will follow. RJP)

 

Whatever Became of Mohammed al Amoudi? And Why Haven’t the Saudis Released Him? …

Maybe because there is nothing of him left to release? …and all the king’s horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Mohammed al Amoudi together again?

Whatever became of Mohammed al Amoudi? Is he still alive? Has he been tortured? There, in Saudi’s Al Ha’ir prison,  there would be no Turkish listening devices to record his last moments? Did he meet a ghastly fate in Riyahd as Jamal Khashoggi’s in Istanbul with body parts dismembered while still alive until he died in unspeakable pain? Are his fingers or their ashes sprinkled at different sites throughout the Riyadh region?

Or is he alive and soon to be released as the Saudis claim?

The Saudis keep hedging on sharing information about al Amoudi. The longer Riyadh hedges, the more the speculation that he is no longer “this side of the great divide” resonates in the world press. And who knows, if not for the Khashoggi debacle, which continues to be played out as I write, Mohammed al Amoudi’s fate might have simply slid from the public consciousness, his fate ignored. But the Saudi monarchy-directed-planned and executed murder of Jamal Khashoggi has, literally, resurrected the fate of others whose treatment and ultimate fates remain unknown, among them al Amoudi.

One year ago, on November 4, 2017, al Amoudi was kidnapped upon the orders of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (known these days as MBS) and detained in Saudi Arabia in a “corruption crackdown” conducted by MBS’s royal anti-corruption committee. Al Amoudi was arrested along with a number of Saudi princes and hundreds of officials during a de-facto coup by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the end of last year in an attempt to consolidate his power in the kingdom. 

Seen rather as “a power and money grab” than a bonafide anti-corruption crackdown, it is said to have produced something along the lines of $100 billion for MBS. Some have been released including one of al Amoudi’s cousins, Mohammed Aboud al Amoudi, a property developer. The price of freedom – 70% of their assets.

Despite numerous inquiries, al Amoudi has not been seen since his abduction and detention. There are fears, admittedly unconfirmed at this point, that he has been tortured to force him to transfer his wealth to Salman. At first they were held at the plush Ritz Carlton in Riyadh but later were transferred to “the notorious” Al Ha’ir prison, the country’s maximum security prison south of Riyadh. An October 14, 2018 article in the British newspaper “Daily Mail” indicated that a year after his incarceration, al Amoudi was still behind bars “languishing there”. The Daily Mail raised the possibility that al Amoudi, along with four others, “may have been tortured or killed.” In the same Daily Mail article, Middle East expert Simon Henderson is quoted saying “I think they’re stuck there.”

As will be detailed below, the more I learn about al Amoudi, the less likely I believe that he is still alive. He suffers from at least some of the same conditions that sealed Jamal Khashoggi’s fate. As in a Greek tragedy, these conditions sealed his fate. He seemed completely unaware of the ax that was about to fall on his head, either metaphorically, or in actuality:

  • He knew too much about too many people, especially about the 9-11 cover-up and Saudi relations with al Qaeda (as will be described below). No way of knowing how al Amoudi would use that intelligence in his own interest, and eventually against MBS. No better way to silence a potential threat than to kill him.
  • It is not so much that in terms of Saudi power that he “backed the wrong sheik,” but that the sheikh he backed and that backed him and was his mentor, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz had the nerve to die on him. As the fluid situation within the royal family finally stabilized around Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, al Amoudi, the ultimate insider, found himself out of favor. His wealth thereby shifted from the category of “asset” to “extreme liability.”
  • Motivated by good old-fashioned unbridled – almost unthinkable greed, a greed with no limits – he overestimated, as gazillionaires often do, the extent and limits of his own power.
  • MBS not only coveted the 70% of al Amoudi’s wealth, but also wanted to bring some of his resources directly under Saudi government control, specifically, but not only, his ownership of large swaths of food production in Ethiopia.
  • Another al Amoudi strength that disintegrated into a weakness – much of his wealth is registered with foreign entities in foreign countries: Ethiopia, Sweden, London, the US of A, Central Asia. It is far easier for MBS to extract the wealth of those whose accounts are largely or mostly in Saudi financial institutions and resources. It is far more difficult to pry those resources from foreign states, especially core, wealthy countries like the UK, USA, Sweden. This could have been a factor in his extended stay and his failure, even if his life depended upon it, to cough up with the magic “70%.”
  • Finally, changes in Ethiopia this year worked against him.

Who is Mohammed al Amoudi, anyhow?

According to Wikipedia, verified by other sources,

Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-‘Amoudi (Amharic: , Arabic: محمد حسين علي العمودي ) is an Ethiopian and Saudi Arabian billionaire businessman. He was born in Ethiopia in 1946 to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother.[2] In 2016, his net worth was estimated by Forbes at approximately $10.9 billion and a relative fall in net value was linked to the global fall in oil and gold prices at the time of estimation.[1] He was also listed as Ethiopia’s richest man, the second richest Saudi Arabian citizen in the world and the second richest black person in the world.[3] Al Amoudi made his fortune in construction and real estate before branching out to buy oil refineries in Sweden and Morocco. He is the largest individual foreign investor in Ethiopia and a major investor in Sweden.

Not a member of the royal family but a billionaire with investments and assets worldwide. His total wealth was reported to have amounted to $13.5 billion. While other figures have been quoted as to al Amoudi’s wealth, it appears to be nothing less than $8 billion; another source puts his empire at $10.6 billion. Whatever, he’s up there in the gazillionaire stratosphere and is considered one of the richest, if not the world’s richest billionaires of African extraction.

Some Aspects of al Amoudi’s Empire: the al Qaeda, bin Laden Connection 

By any standard, Al Amoudi’s wealth is prodigious.

According to a March 16, 2018 New York Times in-depth profile, al Amoudi’s economic holdings are vast. “He supplies coffee to Starbucks”and “he owns much of Ethiopia.” Forbes considered him “the world’s richest black person.” More than 70,000 people are in his employ across what is a sprawling global empire. that includes an agricultural venture, a fuel company, gold mines, real estate in downtown Addis Ababa and a chain of gas stations. The Times article continues,“He controls businesses in Ethiopia where he is the largest private employer and the most prominent backer of the former authoritarian government there. In Sweden he owns a large fuel company, in London which he has used as abase to set up a number of companies.

Controlling such a global economic network, it should come as no surprise that Mohammad al Amoudi is well-connected in the United States where he has a special relationship with that clearing house for many a Third World scoundrel and dictator, the Clinton Foundation. The foundation folk refer to al Amoudi, affectionately as simply “Sheik Mo.” The fact that he wrote a check for $6 million to the foundation and offered his private plane to fly Bill Clinton to Ethiopia in 2011 might explain why he is treated so kindly there. Some sources suggest that his overall contributions to the Clinton Foundation were in the $30-40 million range.

The general pattern of his global investments is known minus some of the more juicy details. Still, quite a record…

Just how Mohammed al Amoudi, a commoner in Saudi, acquired such mind-boggling wealth, is not entirely obvious, certainly influential connections have something to do with it.

Al Amoudi was already quite active nearly forty years ago.

In the 1980s, Sheikh Amoudi set up Mohammed International Development Research and Organization Companies, a conglomerate known as Midroc. Early on, his biggest deal was a multibillion-dollar project to build the Saudi kingdom’s underground oil storage capacity, something that simply does not happen without connections. Engineering and construction became core businesses for Midroc: but it operates everything from pharmaceutical to furniture factories in the region, according to its website. Sheikh Amoudi also owns half of a steel company called Yanbu, and a large chain of gas stations called Naft.

There are some indications that at least one of the keys, if not the main one, to his spectacular success is the political alliances he was able to construct, resulting in his being something of a broker for elements of the Saudi royal family. Early on he made a key alliance with Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, defense minister and crown prince before his 2011 death. Al Amoudi managed some of the prince’s finances; he, al Amoudi ran businesses that depended on the prince’s money, position and associates. He also had a close and profitable relationship with Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire who later became caught in the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1991 and had to pay a fine of $225 million – pittance for a billionaire – to escape prosecution. Bin Mahfouz died in 2009, and through death escaped Salman’s probable wrath and shakedown in which al Amoudi got caught.

Much of the leadership of BCCI, a bank that still exists, were indicted in massive money laundering and other financial crimes. BCCI was at the heart of “a financial architecture” that allowed Osama bin Laden to launder drug money, harbor terrorist funds and buy illegal weapons. As a French intelligence report on BCCI and al Qaeda noted: “The dominant trait of bin Laden’s operations is that of a terrorist network backed up by a vast financial structure.” The bank was at the heart of how al Qaeda got its funding until its collapse in 1991. Bin Laden had accounts at the bank. It was through BCCI that the activities and interests of the CIA, al Qaeda and the likes of Mohammed al Amoudi merged into a stinking powerful blend.

Al Amoudi’s connection to BCCI opens the door to relations with the world’s largest intelligence agencies and networks, including the C.I.A. and al Qaeda. Khalid bin Mafouz’s sister was married to Osama bin Laden. After leaving BCCI bin Mahfouz went on to serve as a director of the National Commerce Bank, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest. An audit requested by the United States revealed that  the National Commerce Bank was funneling millions of dollars to charities controlled by bin Laden. Saudi authorities never permitted U.S. authorities to question bin Mahfouz, though.

What was al Amoudi’s role in all this?

Quite a fine expose on his connections with U.S. oil companies and al Qaeda at the Third World Traveler’s blog site, specifically the entry entitled “The Covert Origins of the Af-Pak War” from the book “Revolution or World War III” by David Degraw.

The bin Mahfouz and al-Amoudi clans were heavily involved with U.S. officials and oil companies throughout BCCI’s reign and even after its collapse. The two billionaire Saudi families were scrutinized by U.S. authorities probing possible financial ties to bin Laden’s terrorist network. Throughout the investigations, both families “continued to engage in major oil deals with major U.S. corporations”.

The two family clans controlled three private Saudi oil companies – Delta Oil, Nimir Petroleum and Corral Petroleum – partnered with U.S. oil giants Texaco, Unocal, Amerada Hess and Frontera Resources to form international consortiums in a series of “ambitious oil development and pipeline projects in central and south Asia, according to records.

At least in the period just after September 11, 2001, those business ties persisted despite evidence that bin Mahfouz and al Amoudi clans have had ties to Islamic charities and companies linked financially to bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Curiously enough – a suggestion of just how powerful were al Amoudi’s connections in those days with both Washington and the Saudi monarchy – despite those ties, both Khaldi bin Mahfouz and Mohammed Hussein al Amoudi were left untouched by the U.S. Treasury Dept. which had frozen the assets of 150 other individuals, companies and charities suspected of financing terrorism. 

The above mentioned NY Times article (March 16, 2018) does mention al Amoudi’s ties to al Qaeda, although it is done so deep in a long article and gives the connection hardly a passing mention, which is curious in and of itself. To quote it:

Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a lawsuit by the owner of the World Trade Center described Sheikh Amoudi as a “material sponsor of international terrorism” because of his funding of controversial Islamic charities. Both sides agreed to a dismissal the next year, and a spokesman for Sheikh Amoudi attributed the suit to a case of mistaken identity.

While factually accurate in terms of the results of the court proceedings, it fails to note the great deal of lobbying, political influencing that took place behind the scenes. The indictment – which claimed that al Amoudi was a “material sponsor of international terrorism” was brushed aside. “A case of mistaken identity?” Al Amoudi walked away scot free.

Al Amoudi, the Taliban, and The Strategy of the Silk Road…

That isn’t the end of it by a long shot.

Even after 9-11 when the al Amoudi – Bin Laden – al Qaeda link was exposed, al Amoudi (and bin Mahfouz) continued on their merry way collaborating – along with key elements of the George W. Bush administration in Central Asia. Their oil companies, Delta Oil, Nimir Petroleum and Corral Petroleum, were involved in complex schemes to try to ice out Russia, China and Iran from participating in energy development in the regions adjacent to the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea. It was a part of an overall U.S strategy referred to as “The Strategy of the Silk Route.”

Where was the al Amoudi connection to all this?

TAPI – discussed here. Stalled, the project has been renewed again in early 2018 with funding from the Asian Development Bank

As they say, like a bad penny (or in this case – a bad few billion dollars) he keeps turning up in conjunction with the most unsavory global elements, once again. As a part of “the Strategy of the Silk Route,” a plan to build a Trans-Afghanistan pipeline to counter Chinese influence, or TAPI, from Turkmenistan’s natural gas fields to Pakistan. Consolidating the project was one of the geo-political goals of the late 2001 U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan. In the arrangement, Unocal partnered with Saudi Delta Oil, which happened to be owned by al Qaeda funders Khalid bin Mahfouz and Mohammed Hussein al Amoudi. Together they formed  “Central Asia Gas Pipeline, Ltd,” or “Centgas” as it came to be known by its acronym.

In order for the project which ran through Afghanistan to be completed, cooperation with the Taliban was required. As David DeGraw notes:

The Taliban’s inability to commit to any agreement, coupled with public recognition of the exploitative nature of their regime, contributed to its failure. For years, the Taliban skillfully conducted simultaneous negotiations with two potential oil companies: Argentinean Bridas [later bought by BP] and Unocal/CentGas. Both companies showered the Taliban with gifts and money, flying their delegations to the US to win them over. On one occasion, a group of Taliban met high-ranking executives of Unocal in Texas. Parties, dinners and trips to the local shopping malls were organized. At the same time, Zalmay Khalizad, who was working for Unocal, lobbied the Clinton administration to ‘engage’ with the Taliban. The press reported some of these ‘informal’ meetings between US officials and rulers of Afghanistan: ‘Senior Taliban leaders attended a conference in Washington in mid-1996 and US diplomats regularly traveled to Taliban headquarters,’ wrote the Guardian.

These negotiations in which al Amoudi’s companies were intimately involved with the Taliban started in the early 1990s and continued after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in NYC. They actually intensified after 9-11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The al Amoudi connection continues. The Chair of the 9/11 Commission investigation was one Thomas Kean. Kean also happened to be a key player in the Trans Afghanistan Pipeline deal as a director of Hess Corp, which itself was in a joint venture with Delta Oil, ie, one of the oil companies owned, coincidentally, by Khalid bin Mahfouz and Mohammed Hussein al Amoudi!

It also needs to be pointed out that  after 9-11, when suit after suit came down from 9-11 survivors and family members, yhen U.S. Secretary of State in the George W. Bush Administration, power broker extraordinaire and one of the finest lobbyists for U.S oil and gas interests ever to play a role in government, was hired to defend the BCCI/Saudi/al Qaeda oil interests, among them, once again Mohammed al Amoudi.

So, while recognizing that not even the likes of Mohammed al Amoudi should be subjected to unfair imprisonment, to say nothing of torture and murder, if that is indeed the case, that he is not some innocent babe in the woods, and that the blood of al Qaeda’s victims and the U.S. war in Afghanistan are on his hands also. Like Kashoggi, he’s simply a first class skunk who got caught up in a web that is partly of his own making, his greed knows no bounds.

In Part Two, we’ll explore his extensive economic and political ties with Ethiopia.

Part Three notes Dec, 2018 Saudi announcement that al Amoudi is alive and will put on trial.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: