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Order issued to freeze assets of Saudi billionaire

SAUDI Arabia's central bank has ordered local banks to freeze the accounts of a Saudi billionaire, a person familiar with the order said.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency also ordered banks in the country to freeze transactions with Maan al-Sanea, the chairman of the privately-held Saudi conglomerate Saad Group and owner of a 3 percent stake in HSBC Holdings Plc, said the person, who asked for confidentiality, on Sunday.

SAMA did not provide any explanation for the order, which was sent to banks in the oil-rich kingdom last Thursday, and also affects five of al-Sanea's relatives, including his wife and children, said the person who saw the directive. It includes their accounts and credit cards.

The SAMA order asks "for everything to be frozen, including credit cards," the individual said.

Forbes magazine lists al-Sanea as the world's 62nd richest man, with a value of about US$7 billion, according to a March 11 report.

A call placed to SAMA for comment went unanswered, and officials with the Khobar-based Saad Group could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for HSBC's affiliate in Riyadh declined to comment on the move, which was first reported on Sunday in the Saudi daily newspaper, Al-Watan.

The newspaper, citing unidentified high level banking sources, said al-Sanea's accounts had been frozen, and linked the move to the recent debt default by Bahrain-based The International Banking Corp.

The newspaper said it learned that there "was a connection between al-Sanea ... and the inability of The International Banking Corp. ... to meet its debts."


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