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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Saudi investors 'could withdraw US funds'
Saudi Arabia's 2000 riyal note
Saudis deny they have funded terrorists
Saudi investors have threatened to withdraw some of the $750bn (487bn; 766bn euros) they have invested in the US after families of 11 September victims filed a lawsuit against Saudi banks and charities for damages.


Assuming the court proceeds with this lawsuit, the Saudi investment community, already in shock, will start withdrawing their money

Bishr Bakheet
Bakheet Financial Consultancy
"This is an act to extort Saudi money deposited in the US and a way of meddling in the region," an official at Al-Rajhi Investment and Development Corp, one of the Saudi banks named in the lawsuit, told the Reuters news agency.

Relatives of about 900 people killed in the attacks filed a civil suit in a Washington court last Thursday seeking damages of over $1 trillion.

It accused three senior Saudi princes - including Defence Minister Prince Sultan, the kingdom's third highest official - several Saudi and other foreign banks, and Sudan's government of funding Osama bin Laden.

Pull-out threat

"Naming Prince Sultan is the equivalent of saying J. Edgar Hoover was a communist spy," said economist Bishr Bakheet of the Bakheet Financial Consultancy.

"Assuming the court proceeds with this lawsuit, the Saudi investment community, already in shock, will start withdrawing their money. People are really going to walk out," he said.

Dr Abd-al-Rahman al-Zamil, chairman of Al-Zamil Group, has urged Saudi investors to repatriate their funds to the kingdom, Saudi newspaper Arab News reported.

Riyadh has yet to officially comment on the lawsuit.

A Sudanese government minister also dismissed allegations that Khartoum had funded Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born dissident Washington says masterminded the 11 September attacks.

Zero error

The lawsuit originally sought $100 trillion in damages but the lawyer for the victims late on Friday amend the suit to $1 trillion.

"I don't know how $100 trillion got in there. Somebody probably typed it at four o'clock in the morning," lawyer Ron Motley told the AP.

Mr Motley said the $1 trillion plus damages claim was calculated by multiplying the number of plaintiffs by the average award of $30m in such cases and then again by three.

He cited a federal law which says that damages can be tripled for victims of terrorist crimes.

Saudi-US strains

Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers have been identified as Saudi, but the country's government has repeatedly stressed they were not involved in the attacks.

The lawsuit alleges Saudi money has "for years been funnelled to encourage radical anti-Americanism as well as to fund the al Qaeda terrorists".

Riyadh's refusal to allow the US to use its territory to attack Iraq and repeated criticism of pro-Israel US bias have strained relations between the oil superpower and Washington.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

17 Aug 02 | Americas
16 Aug 02 | Middle East
16 Aug 02 | Americas
12 Mar 02 | Americas
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