As Saudi prince rises, the Bin Laden business empire declines

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RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi Arabia’s uber-wealthy bin Laden family survived the fallout from the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, but their fortunes nose-dived with the meteoric ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A decade after the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, disowned and labelled the “black sheep” of the family, the construction empire founded by his father is saddled with crushing debt.

The state has taken management control of the Bin Laden Group, Saudi Arabia’s biggest construction company and branded by some as the kingdom’s Rockefellers for their vast infrastructure projects, after they were snared in an anti-corruption purge widely seen as a shakedown.

The reversal of their fortunes is closely tied to Shakespearean power struggles and an economic overhaul in the petro-state, as it prepares for a post-oil era under de facto ruler Prince Mohammed, known as MBS.

Former company chairman Bakr bin Laden, Osama’s half-brother who is in his 70s, remains in detention since a November 2017 purge that saw royals, tycoons and government ministers locked up in Riyadh’s palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel, two sources close to the family told AFP.

Two other brothers, Saad and Saleh, were also held but subsequently freed, initially being made to wear ankle bracelets to track their movements, the sources added.

An official document seen by AFP shows the government acquired the three brothers’ collective 36.2 per cent stake in the company.

The authorities also seized assets including villas, private jets and luxury cars, and have barred family members from overseas travel, the sources said.

The government has not publicly disclosed specific charges, and the sources say the reclusive family denies any wrongdoing.

“The bin Ladens survived 9/11, but they could not survive MBS,” one of the sources told AFP. “You’d think it would have been the other way round.”

Royal ‘ATM’

Osama’s father Mohammed, originally from neighbouring Yemen, had more than 50 children from multiple wives.

The company he founded in 1931 blossomed into a multi-billion-dollar empire through lucrative state contracts to build palaces, universities, highways and