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EGYPT: Saudi prince's land deal infuriates lawmakers

February 10, 2010 |  9:29 am

520xreuters Details of a previously undisclosed 12-year-old contract that enabled Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Waleed bin Talal to buy nearly 104,000 acres in Egypt's western desert have spread anger and dissent among independent and opposition lawmakers.

Contents of the 1998 contract signed between Talal's Kingdom Holding Co. and the Egyptian General Authority for Rehabilitation Projects and Agricultural Development (GARPAD) were published by the Al Masry Al Youm daily newspaper on Wednesday, alongside a photocopy of the original document.

The newspaper reported that the Saudi tycoon paid the bargain price of about 50 Egyptian pounds ($9.10) per acre and was guaranteed low fees for unlimited access to water and electricity on the sprawling piece of land. The real estate is part of the Egyptian government's New Valley project, which started in 1997 with the aim of reclaiming half a million acres of desert. 

"This is a waste of public money," said Mostafa Bakry, an independent member of parliament, adding that he believes the land is worth no less than 20,000 pounds an acre. "Additionally, Kingdom Holding has so far developed only [about 800 acres], and the government should intervene to withdraw the land because its owners didn’t fulfill the legal obligation of developing larger parts of it."

Salah El Sayegh, a member of the opposition Wafd Party, described the deal as a "fatal error," confirming that Talal already bought about 100,000 acres with the intention of reselling the land for higher prices rather than for development.

The newspaper's report also made public that the Egyptian government committed itself to providing Kingdom Holding employees with free entertainment and services during their work on the project, as well as accepting international arbitration in case any disagreements occur between Talal and GARPAD.

Talal, who is ranked by Forbes as the 22nd richest person in the world, with a net worth estimated at $16.3 billion, is a nephew of Saudi Arabia's king, Abdullah.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Prince Waleed bin Talal. Credit: Reuters