Palestinian Billionaire Sabih al-Masri Released by Saudis After Surprising Arrest, Sources Say

The arrest of al-Masri, who heads Jordan's Arab Bank, came amid the biggest purge of the Kingdom's affluent elite in its modern history

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 24, 2017.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 24, 2017.Credit: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Jordan's most influential businessman, the Palestinian billionaire Sabih al-Masri, returned to his home in Riydah after being detained by Saudi authorities and is expected to be allowed to leave the country soon, sources close to the family said on Sunday. 

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Masri's detention, which follows the biggest purge of the Saudi kingdom's affluent elite in its modern history, has sent shockwaves through business circles in Jordan and the Palestinian territories, where the billionaire has major investments. 

A Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin, Masri is also the chairman of Amman-based Arab Bank, one of the Middle East's largest financial institutions. He was detained last Tuesday hours before he was planning to leave after he chaired meetings of companies he owns, sources said.

According to his family, al-Masri was detained as he was en route to the Saudi capital in order to chair meetings of companies he owns, and confidants of his have said that he was warned not to travel to Saudi Arabia after mass arrests last month of Saudi royals, ministers and businessmen.

"He has been answering questions about his business and partners," said a source familiar with the matter who did not elaborate nor confirm he was held. Another family source said he was detained. 

Masri, who originally comes from a prominent merchant family from Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, amassed a fortune from partnering with influential Saudis in a major catering business to supply troops during the U.S.-led military operation to retake Kuwait from Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. 

Masri was elected chairman of Arab Bank in 2012 after the resignation of Abdel Hamid Shoman whose family had founded the bank in Jerusalem in 1930. 

He is also the leading investor in the Palestinian territories with a large stake in Paltel, a public shareholding company, which is the largest private sector firm in the West Bank. 

Masri's family ranks among the wealthiest of Palestinian families, with majority holdings in real estate, hotels and telecommunications firms set up in the territories after a self-rule agreement with Israel in 1993.