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Football supporter Sheikh Al Amoudi released from Saudi detention

Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi (left) at a stadium with then Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi (left) at a stadium with then Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

SAUDI Ethiopia-born billionaire Mohammed al Amoudi a known philanthropist and supporter of sport, particularly African football, has been released from detention.

Sheikh Al Amoudi, who was born in Ethiopia to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, owns a broad portfolio of businesses in construction, energy, agriculture, mining, hotels, healthcare and manufacturing.

According to a Forbes report last year, his net worth was estimated to be $10.9bn. Forbes downgraded his net worth earlier this month to $1.2bn “due to a lack of clarity about which assets he still owns”.

Saudi Arabia has freed Sheikh al-Amoudi, more than a year after the tycoon was detained under the kingdom’s controversial anti-corruption campaign. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed Amoudi’s release on Twitter on Sunday, saying he had raised the issue with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a trip to Riyadh last May.

Sheikh Al Amoudi has a strong commitment to sport not only in Ethiopia but in Africa and internationally. He sees sporting achievement as means of bringing people together regardless of their ethnic origin, gender or religious beliefs, in 2013, he donated 10 million birr to the Ethiopian national football team to support them in the African Nations Cup. In the previous year, he provided 5 million birr each to the national men’s and women’s football teams, showing an early interest in the women’s sport in anticipation of the formation of an Ethiopian Women’s Football League.

In 2017 the 177,000 square metre Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi Stadium, a major regional sports centre in Woldia, Ethiopia, was inaugurated by then-Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Mohammed said on that occasion, “The community here [In Woldia where Mohammed grew up] has a very special love of sport. This stadium is my gift to the people of Woldiya.” Personally, he supports the major Ethiopian Premier League football team St George FC, based in Addis Ababa.

St George, Ethiopia's biggest football club that Sheikh Al Amoudi is a fan of

St George, Ethiopia’s biggest football club that Sheikh Al Amoudi is a fan of

Outside Ethiopia, he sponsored the CECAFA Cup, Africa’s oldest football competition, from 2004 to 2007. It was renamed the Al Amoudi Senior Challenge Cup in 2005 and 2006. His support for sport has also extended outwards to the Ethiopian diaspora and he contributed significant funds to AESAONE, providing, at one stage, a three year financial commitment.

The tycoon, who had a net worth estimated to be $10.9bn, was detained as part of a Saudi ‘anti-corruption purge’ in 2017. Dozens of Saudi royal family members, ministers, and top businessmen were arrested following Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) so-called ‘anti-corruption’ campaign.

In 2013 Sheikh Al Amoudi he donated 10 million birr to the Ethiopian national football team to support them in the African Nations Cup. In the previous year, he provided five million birr each to the national men’s and women’s football teams, showing an early interest in the women’s sport in anticipation of the formation of an Ethiopian Women’s Football League.

A family office spokesman told Reuters that Al Amoudi had returned to his home in the western city of Jeddah. He was detained at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in November 2017 along with dozens of princes, officials and businessmen.

Allegations against those detained included money laundering, bribery, and extorting officials. The crackdown was in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to illicitly accrue money,” a royal decree at the time said. Most were freed after reaching settlement deals with the government, including Saudi businessman and billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal.

Al Amoudi’s release follows that of several other businessmen last week and comes after the kingdom suffered a global backlash over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the reported torture of women activists.

It is unclear how much, if any, of Amoudi’s wealth he may have handed over to the state in exchange for his release. The Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said last January that the kingdom had seized more than $100bn in anti-corruption settlements. Experts have noted that the arrests were a way for MBS to consolidate economic, as well as political, power in Saudi Arabia.

Additional reporting by Correspondents and Agencies

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