Whatever pressure was applied in the Ritz, the goal was to get detainees to sign over assets. In some cases, the government brought in prominent international firms to help.
Crown Prince Mohammed first expressed interest in buying the Arab world’s largest private media company, MBC, in 2015, according to three associates of the company’s leadership. Although not considered highly profitable, MBC owns a range of satellite television stations beaming shows like “The Voice” and “Arabs Got Talent” into millions of homes, and the company has tremendous power to sway Arab public opinion.
Negotiations over the sale had bogged down when a team from the international accounting firm PWC arrived to vet the company’s books in October.
The company’s owners and most of its board were arrested and detained on Nov. 4. Four days later, PWC’s accountants visited the company’s headquarters in Dubai to finish their report, according to two professionals with knowledge of the meeting.
Then a second foreign firm, the British law firm Clifford Chance, drew up the paperwork to transfer the company’s ownership, according to three professionals with knowledge of the deal.
Neither firm publicly raised any concerns that the sellers had been detained by the buyer.
A spokesman for Clifford Chance declined to comment, but one Clifford Chance lawyer involved in the work sought to distance the firm from the crackdown, saying its lawyers were retained after the detentions began and learned about them only from the News media.
One PWC accountant involved in the MBC valuation declined to comment. But another executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of client confidentiality rules, said PWC had played no role in helping the kingdom track the assets of those accused of corruption.
No set code of ethics governs the conduct of accounting and consulting firms in international cases but Western firms like PWC typically preach the virtues of predictable rules, transparent procedures and open markets, not state seizures of private assets.
British law firms like Clifford Chance are subject to Britain’s legal ethics code, which requires solicitors to uphold “the rule of law and the common administration of justice.”
Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University, said lawyers would not be penalized as long as they adhered to Local laws — in this case, those set by the Saudi monarch.
“Lawyers take the position that so long as they comply with the law in the nation in which they are representing their clients, they’re acting ethically, even if the same conduct would be illegal or unethical in their home country,” he wrote in an email.
Still, he said, “lawyers can decline to assist conduct that they find morally objectionable even if it is entirely legal.”
Waleed al-Ibrahim, MBC’s chairman, was released from the Ritz in late January, but has yet to return to Dubai, despite promises to his staff. In recent weeks, MBC representatives have met with Clifford Chance lawyers to finalize an agreement that will leave Mr. Ibrahim with 40 percent of the company, likely paving the way for his ouster as director, according to two professionals with knowledge of the deal.
But the company’s programing has already changed. This month, it canceled six popular Turkish drama series, costing the company about $25 million, according to professionals familiar with the company’s finances.
The Saudi government is at odds with Turkey over its ties with Qatar, which Saudi Arabia and its allies are boycotting. The professionals said the order came from a senior Saudi official close to Crown Prince Mohammed.
source : CNBC