Saudi authorities released billionaire Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi after nearly 15 months of detention, Ethiopian officials said, the latest in a wave of prominent businesspeople to regain their freedom after being rounded up in November 2017.
Mr. Al Amoudi, born in Ethiopia and a Saudi citizen, was once considered one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth of as much as $15 billion, according to Forbes. But his still unexplained detention raised questions about his ownership of a far-flung business empire that includes Swedish oil assets, Ethiopian agriculture and Saudi construction and real estate.
His release on Sunday was announced on Twitter by the office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had pressed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Mr. Al Amoudi’s release. Mr. Al Amoudi is Ethiopia’s richest man and biggest investor.
Mr. Al Amoudi was among hundreds of Saudi royals, businessmen and government officials rounded up in late 2017 and initially held at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. Saudi authorities said they were cracking down on the country’s endemic corruption, but some involved said it was a way for Prince Mohammed to consolidate power.
Other wealthy Saudi detainees had to pay large fees to procure their freedom, as Saudi authorities said they were aiming to reach $100 billion in settlements from the corruption roundup.
A person familiar with Mr. Al Amoudi’s situation said: “He paid and he paid a lot” for his freedom.
Mr. Al Amoudi’s attorneys on Saturday specified that his non-Saudi businesses remained independently managed but didn’t address his considerable holdings inside the kingdom.
Saudi media representatives didn’t respond immediately to questions about Mr. Al Amoudi. Saudi officials informally confirmed that he has been freed.
Most Ritz detainees were released after a couple of months, but Mr. Al Amoudi was among several dozen who were transferred to other detention sites and held longer. Several have been released recently as Saudi Arabia works to defuse an international human-rights uproar over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents in Istanbul.
Saudi authorities last week released Jeddah billionaire Amr Dabbagh, McKinsey consultants Hani Khoja and Sami al-Zuhaibi, and two less prominent businessmen, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Messrs. Dabbagh and Khoja had been physically abused, the Journal reported.
Saudi officials didn’t return requests for comment at the time.
Mr. Al Amoudi’s detention sparked diplomatic discussions between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia and raised questions about his treatment after he went months without speaking to business associates or family.
On Saturday before his release, his attorneys confirmed that Mr. Al Amoudi was alive, hadn’t been tortured and was living comfortably. His attorneys said he hadn’t been charged formally with a crime.