RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Billionaire Saudi businessman Saleh Abdullah Kamel, who founded the banking and real estate conglomerate Dallah Albaraka Group, has died, according to relatives quoted in the kingdom’s media. He was 79.
People close to Kamel told The Associated Press he died at the Dr. Samir Abbas Hospital in the city of Jiddah, where he was taken after suffering a heart attack early on Tuesday.
Kamel’s business empire grew from its humble beginnings in the late 1960′s — at the same time that the kingdom was using its oil wealth to rapidly develop and in need of homegrown companies to build roads, highways and cities.
Over the years, the business expanded to tens of thousands of employees and today includes subsidiaries and stakes in a range of businesses, such as the operation and maintenance of airports and roads, tourism, trade, trucking and transportation, telecommunications, media, agriculture, poultry and health care.
Kamel’s son and the CEO of Dallah Albaraka Group, Abdullah Kamel, was quoted in the state-linked Okaz newspaper that he oversees as saying that funeral prayers will be held Tuesday afternoon in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which has been closed to visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The fact that his funeral prayers are being permitted at the mosque, which is home to Islam’s holiest site, reflects Kamel’s prominence and stature in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV network said Kamel, who was born in Mecca but based in Jiddah, was instrumental in helping build many of the kingdom’s ports and major projects. He served on numerous boards and was the chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks and the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce. He once owned a significant stake in Saudi broadcaster MBC, which owns and operates Al-Arabiya.
Al-Arabiya dubbed him “the father of contemporary Islamic finance”.
His life, however, was not without controversy. Following the 9/11 attacks, he and other prominent Saudi businessmen and princes were sued on charges of financing the attacks. The lawsuits were dismissed by the U.S. District Court of New York in 2005.
The Wall Street Journal had reported at the time that U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials had information linking the Dallah Albaraka Group to transactions by suspected al-Qaida members. However U.S. officials gave no indication that Kamel or his son, Abdullah, knowingly aided al-Qaida or other militant groups.
Kamel was also reportedly swept up in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s anti-corruption purge in 2017. The unprecedented Saudi crackdown saw the country’s top princes and businessmen detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, with many forced to sign over billions of dollars in assets. The sweep, which was conducted largely in secret behind closed doors, helped the young crown prince consolidate power and was widely criticized by international rights groups.
Across Muslim countries and at home, Kamel was heavily involved in philanthropy and charity.
A multi-million dollar donation in 2010 established the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale Law School in the U.S.
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.