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Sheikh Kamel: Has the Mighty Saudi Fallen?

November 19th 2017

Saudi police

Inconceivably, in November 2017 Sheikh Saleh Abdallah Kamel chairman and founderof the Dallah al Baraka Group, chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, perhaps Saudi Arabia's richest private citizen, was placed under house arrest. His banking empire, untouched by numerous American and European investigations concerning their possible funding of terrorism, including al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and affiliated groups, now appears under threat.

In 2000 a Bosnia police raid on the Benevolence Foundation charity located in Sarajevo resulted in the most important discovery of al Qaeda documents unearthed up to that date. The director of that charity, who was located in the United States, was later brought to trial in Chicago (US government indictment of Enaam Arnaout on 9 October 2002, 02 CR 892). Included in the evidence submitted was a copy of a 1988 handwritten draft listing wealthy financiers of Osama bin Laden's mujahedeen operation in Afghanistan. It was referred to within al Qaeda as the 'Golden Chain,' and it listed the names of eighteen Saudi and Gulf plutocrats who could be expected to give wholeheartedly to the Al Qaeda movement. ("Government's Evidentiary Proffer Supporting the Admissibility of Coconspirator Statements" in the case of USA v. Arnaout, USDC, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, filed on January 29, 2003.)

It is hard to imagine a more explosive document concerning the funding of a potential Islamist terrorist organization than the Golden Chain. Included in the list of potential donors were names of powerful Saudis such as Rashid, Bakri, bin Laden, Jameel, Rahji, Mahfouz, Yamani, etc. The sixth in number on the list was Saleh Abdallah Kamel. Predictably, the persons named denied they had anything to do with al- Qaeda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia protected its wealthy offspring, as did noted American law firms.

Sheikh Kamel and his Jeddah based holding company, Dallah al Baraka, were challenged in American courts, but they easily shook off their pursuers. It appeared that Kamel was untouchable, and in Saudi Arabia that was thought to be only too true.
That supposition was finally exploded when Sheikh Kemal was arrested by the Saudi authorities on 4 November 2017. Kamel and more scores of fellow Saudi princes and plutocrats were placed under house arrest in Riyadh and then publicly accused of bribery and theft. It was an inconceivable move, one that threatened the wealth and reputation of Sheikh Kamal, perhaps Saudi Arabia's most puissant citizen found outside the Royal Family itself.

Sheikh Kamel, is, in fact, a particularly important modern Saudi success story. He was a member of an exceptional group of Saudi Arabian bankers born in the early nineteen forties. He had been an early participant in the Beirut-Riyad Bank, an institution founded in 1958 by Saudi royals and Lebanese investors. He then served as General Inspector of Finance for the Saudi monarchy, and next moved on to found in 1969 the powerful Dallah Al Baraka Group LLC. His fortune was made after he received the patronage of Saudi Arabia's influential chief of intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

Kamel's Al Baraka business empire, which began life in 1969 as the Dallah Works and Maintenance Company, soon fattened on contracts issued by the Saudi royal family. By 1982 he was a founder of the path-breaking International Islamic Bank of Investment and Development, strategically placed in banking-convenient Luxembourg. The Bank's twelve investors were all involved one way or another with the International Muslim Brotherhood. Each pledged $100 million to initiate Europe's first Islamic bank. The next year they founded the International Islamic Bank in Copenhagen, Europe's first Islamic bank open to the public.

Following the outbreak of war in Afghanistan in December 1979, the Dallah al Baraka and Kamel helped fund Islamist forces in the war in Afghanistan. And while Kamel continued his involvement in international Islamic banking, it was not until 1984 that the Saudi royal family approved the founding of an Al Baraka bank in Saudi Arabia.
Kamel's bank was credited with modernizing Saudi Arabia's banking sector, and it provided specific Islamic banking services to the Saudi public at large. The Al Baraka soon opened branches in Pakistan, Malaysia and elsewhere. Given the Sheikh's contacts with the Royal Family his bank operated very secretly and apparently with only minimal supervision from Saudi Arabia's Monetary Authority.

Throughout the nineteen eighties Kamel continued his interest in Islamic banking. He was reported to hold a percentage in both Lebanon's Beirut-Riyad bank and the Jordan Islamic Bank. (The latter an institution the Soviets labeled a Muslim Brotherhood bank.) Kamal was also Vice Chairman of the Bank Al Jazira, a new bank founded in Saudi Arabia. Elsewhere, Kamal provided $20 million for the founding of the Al Aqsa Islamic Bank (often called the financial arm of HAMAS).

Kamel was a founding member and a shareholder of the Al Shamal Islamic Bank of the Sudan, which begun operation with $30 million in start-up capital in 1983. It was later known as Osama bin Laden's bank. The Sudanese branch of the Al Baraka Bank also provided Osama bin Laden with financial services, as early as 1983. Included among the curious Shamal depositors was international terrorist Abu Nidal.

By the mid-nineteen-nineties Kamel was director of Saudi Arabia's third largest company, which continued to grow. While Kamel's dominant interest was in banking, he also participated in the operation of various Islamic charities.

Russia's intelligence paid particular interest to the Ikraa, a Jeddah-based Islamist "charity" that first made its appearance in the Caucasus (Dagestan) at the beginning of the 1990s. Its funding was traced to Kamel and the Baraka. In addition, the Baraka Group was tied to the Al Riad foundation in Kazakhstan and to questionable charities in Azerbaijan. Still, despite persistent Western claims that Baraka and Sheikh Kemal could be tied to the funding of terrorist organizations, the man seemed untouchable.
It now appears that with a change of leadership in Saudi Arabia Kamel's carefully constructed personal fortune (and his good name) may be at risk. Nevertheless, as his enemies have learned over the decades, never bet against the Sheikh.

J. Millard Burr, an ACD Fellow, is the author of "Alms for Jihad" that was banned in England.


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