RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is taking managerial control of Saudi Binladin Group and discussing a possible transfer of some of the giant construction group’s assets to the state while its chairman and other family members are in detention, sources told Reuters.
Binladin, which had over 100,000 employees at its height, is the biggest builder in the country and important to Riyadh’s plans for large real estate, industrial and tourism projects to help diversify the economy beyond oil.
However, the group has been hurt financially in the past couple of years by a slump in the construction industry and a temporary exclusion from new state contracts after a crane accident killed 107 people at Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 2015. It was forced to lay off thousands of employees.
Riyadh’s move to take control appears aimed at ensuring the group can continue to serve Saudi Arabia’s development plans, said banking and industry sources, who declined to be named due to the political and commercial sensitivity of the matter.
The government detained scores of senior officials and businessmen in October as part of a sweeping crackdown on corruption. The Binladin group’s chairman Bakr Bin Laden and several family members have been held, the sources said.
Saudi officials are trying to negotiate settlements with detainees, saying they aim to claw back some $100 billion of funds that rightfully belong to the state. The talks on Binladin’s future are part of this effort, the sources said.
Since the detention of Bin Laden family members, the finance ministry has formed a five-member committee, including three government representatives, to oversee the group’s business and handle relations with suppliers and contractors, the sources said.
Binladin executives did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. Finance ministry officials and the government media office also did not respond to requests for comment.