Amr bin Saleh Abdul Rahman Al Madani while touring the Sharaan Nature Reserve near the town of AlUla. Image Credit: AFP file

RIYADH: The head of a tourism and heritage project meant to help establish Saudi Arabia as a global arts hub has been arrested on suspicion of money laundering, authorities announced late Sunday.

Amr bin Saleh Abdul Rahman Al Madani, chief executive of the Royal Commission for AlUla in the northwestern Medina region, “was arrested for his involvement in crimes of abuse of authority and money laundering”, the official anti-corruption authority said in a statement.

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Both before and after he assumed his position, Al Madani was allegedly involved in illegally obtaining contracts for a separate company in which he has an ownership stake, the statement said, putting the value of the contracts at around SR207 million ($55 million).

“Legal procedures are currently being taken against the detainees for prosecution in a court of law, in line with the laws and regulations,” the statement said.

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The contracts relate to the Kingdom Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, the statement said.

It said Al Madani also recommended that private company for additional contracts through his work on the commission for AlUla.

The statement of the charges also were carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Total money

The total money involved in the malpractice amounted to SR206.6 million. After joining the government, Al Madani formally exited the company but maintained his ownership in the company.

He also recommended the deal to the responsible departments of the Royal Commission and that enabled it to obtain projects worth SR1.2 million so that he can obtain personal benefits from companies contracting with the commission, and to receive profits from those projects through one of his relatives.

His relative Mohammad Bin Sulaiman Al Harbi, a Saudi citizen, was also arrested. Al Harbi admitted that he received money from the company and its owners and transferring it to Al Madani.

The partners of the company, Saudi citizens Saeed Bin Atef Ahmad Saeed and Jamal Bin Khalid Abdullah Al Dabal, were also arrested because of their clandestine understanding and agreement with the CEO over the misuse of power and money laundering charges.

The website for the Royal Commission of AlUla on Monday did not refer to Al Madani and instead listed Abeer Al Akel as acting CEO.

AlUla is home to the Hegra archaeological site, a Unesco World Heritage site famed for its ancient Nabataean tombs dotted amid sandstone mountains and wadis.

In recent years authorities have pushed to establish it as a top-tier arts destination, part of a broader push to turn Saudi Arabia into a tourism hub as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda.

The area now boasts luxury eco-resorts and a posh theatre covered in mirrored panels that has seen performances by the likes of Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Andrea Bocelli.

Beginning next month, it will host the latest iteration of Desert X, billed as “a recurring and temporary, site-responsive, international open-air art exhibition”.

Crown Prince Mohammed vowed to curb corruption shortly after he became first in line to the throne in 2017, overseeing the detention of some 200 princes and businessmen in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.