Thousands of people attended the first day of an auction of vehicles owned by indebted Saudi Arabian tycoon Maan al-Sanea and his company, a sale which officials say will go towards repaying about 18bn riyals ($4.8bn) owed to creditors.
Authorities say the auction, the subject of huge interest in the Eastern Province where his business is based, reflects their focus on improving corporate governance and by extension Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s commitment to economic reforms.
Creditors ranging from unpaid workers to local and international banks hope the process, which at a later stage will include sale of bigger assets such as property, will lead to repayment of at least part of their debt.
The businessman, ranked in 2007 by Forbes as one of the world’s 100 richest people, was detained by authorities late last year for unpaid debt dating back to 2009 when his company, Saad Group, defaulted on payments in what was Saudi Arabia’s biggest financial meltdown.
His case is separate from the dozens of Saudi businessmen and prominent figures who have been held in a corruption crackdown, although the dispute touches on similar investor concerns about Saudi corporate governance. A three-judge tribunal established in 2016 to resolve Saad’s debt dispute late last year appointed a consortium called Etqaan Alliance to liquidate assets owned by the billionaire.
The first phase of the auction was launched this week, with around 900 vehicles including lorries, buses, diggers, forklift trucks and golf carts, owned by Saad Group, based in the city of Khobar, going under the hammer.
Later stages of the process will include other parts of his business empire and personal wealth including property — estimated at around 10.3bn riyals, as well as machinery, ceramics and furniture in auctions in the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah and Yanbu, said Abdulaziz al-Rashid, head of Etqaan Alliance, a coalition of companies including two real estate companies, accountants and lawyers.
After a series of TV, online and billboard adverts run by Etqaan Alliance in recent weeks anticipation about the auction has been building.
Roads around the auction site were jammed on Sunday afternoon as people queued to enter the dusty land plot where the event was taking place.
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