JAFFA, Israel – Saudi authorities have launched an inquiry into the burning of seven buses owned by the Bin Laden family’s company, one of the biggest contractors in the kingdom.
Local media has reported that the buses were probably set ablaze by disgruntled employees who had not been paid. The windows of company cars were also smashed.
Police spokesperson Nayaf Sharif said the arson attack took place at the employees’ living quarters, and caused no injuries.
The Saudi media previously reported that the Saudi Bin Laden group, affected by the grave economic crisis that has gripped the kingdom for some time, was planning to fire 50,000 workers – a quarter of the group’s 200,000 employees. Due to the crisis, the government – one of the Bin Ladens’ chief clients – stalled payments and deferred projects.
The Bin Laden group was set up by Muhammad Bin Laden, father of the arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden. With a turnover of some $1 billion a year, it is one of the biggest construction and infrastructure companies in the Arab world.
It has built and maintained many of the kingdom’s biggest structures, including holy sites. It recently won a tender to build the world’s largest structure, a 1.6 kilometer-tall tower in Jeddah, which would have earned it $1.23 billion. It has also won lucrative tenders in the Arab world, most notably $3.4 billion to build an underground train in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
Saudi Ojer, the Bin Ladens’ biggest competitor, has also been mired in liquidity problems. It was set up by former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and is now run by his son. The company hasn’t paid its 56,000 employees for some months, and is reportedly facing bankruptcy.
Last week, Prince Salman, the heir to the throne, launched his multi-year plan “Saudi Vision 2030,” which seeks to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil revenues. It includes levying taxes for the first time as well as a massive job creation scheme in the industry and service sectors. The plan came in response to Saudi Arabia’s mounting deficit following the decline in oil prices and the rising cost of its military interventions in Yemen and Syria.