The bitter dispute between the Al Gosaibi business family of Saudi Arabia and their estranged member, Maan Al Sanea, will come to a head on Monday in a trial in the Cayman Islands to determine ownership of billions of US dollars claimed by both sides in the Middle East’s longest-running business feud.
The case has been years in the preparation, following the collapse of the Al Gosaibi and Al Sanea businesses in 2009 in a tangle of allegations. Local Cayman media say it is the biggest trial in the tax-haven islands’ history.
Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers (Ahab), the family partnership, is seeking billions of dollars that it claims are owed to them by companies formerly owned by Mr Al Sanea, whose principal vehicle in Cayman was Saad Investments Company Limited (Sicl), now administered by the London accountants Grant Thornton as official liquidators.
Ahab is seeking the return of $7.3bn it claims it can trace to Mr Al Sanea’s Cayman companies. It already has a judgement against him of $2.5bn in a Cayman court, which it will seek to enforce.
One of the liquidators for Mr Al Sanea’s companies is bringing a counter claim against Ahab to the value of $6bn.
The Ahab and Saad companies were unable to meet their obligations to more than 100 bank creditors in 2009, resulting in a spate of allegations of fraud, forgery and theft by the Al Gosaibis against their erstwhile business partner, who is related to the family by marriage.
Mr Al Sanea has consistently denied all the allegations and has fought legal actions in New York, London and the Middle East.
The court, to be presided over by Anthony Smellie, is likely to hear how much remains in the Cayman accounts, which were frozen in 2009, after seven years of professional and legal fees.
The outcome of the trial, expected to take at least seven months, takes on a special significance for Ahab because it has offered to repay cash won from Mr Al Sanea in a deal it is negotiating with creditors owed $6bn from the collapse.
Ahab has agreed with claimants to repay 25 cents for each dollar of debt, backed by assets, rising to about 50 cents on recovery of assets in actions against Mr Al Sanea.
The offer has won approval from a special committee of international banks representing about 100 international creditors. Saudi banks, which resisted negotiations with Ahab, are being encouraged by the kingdom’s authorities to take part in the settlement talks.
The trial involves dozens of lawyers and administrators from Cayman, London and the Middle East, backed up by accounting and forensic experts from around the world. It is regarded as a test of the islands’ efficiency as an offshore hub at a time when tax havens are under worldwide scrutiny.
Mr Smellie told The Cayman Reporter: “Our reputation as a leading financial centre depends on our ability to resolve these cases in a timely and effective manner, and that obviously depends upon having the facilities and human resources to do so.”
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