To saudi-arabiske forretningskonglomorater som gikk konkurs har inngått avtaler som favoriserer nasjonale banker på bekostning av utelandske. Det er snakk om 20 milliarder dollar og en rekke store banker er involvert. De er rasende og sier dette er i ferd med å gi forretningsmijøet i Gulfen et dårlig rykte, på toppen av Dubai.

Det merkelige er at kongefamilien ikke synes å bry seg. Den britiske handelsministeren er på vei, i spissen for en delegasjon på 40 fremtredende forretningsmenn. International banking ser ytterst alvorlig på saken.

Bankers are furious that two defaulting Saudi conglomerates that owe $20 billion (£12.2 billion) appear to be favouring local banks over foreign creditors. State-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Standard Chartered are all understood to have exposure to Saad Group and Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros (Ahab). Dozens of other Western banks are also owed money, including Citigroup and BHP Paribas.

Bankers suspect that the two family-owned businesses, which defaulted over the summer, have privately reached agreement with local Saudi banks over restructuring their loans while leaving foreign banks in the cold. One senior banker told The Times yesterday: «Local banks appear to have been given preference.»

The dispute, unless resolved soon, is certain to trigger fresh concern about doing business in the Gulf in the wake of the Dubai calamity. Dubai World, a Government-owned conglomerate, stunned global financial markets last month by announcing a standstill on paying interest, sending bond markets into a tailspin.

Angela Knight, head of the British Bankers’ Association, said yesterday: «This is an important issue for our members and one we would like to see resolved as calmly and quietly as possible.» A leaked letter from the association to Lord Davies two weeks ago asserted that the handling of the affair by the Saudi authorities was doing «enormous damage to the reputation» of Saudi Arabia. The dispute between the businesses was bringing the Saudi system of corporate governance into disrepute, it said.

Bankers are hoping that the potential damage to the reputation of Saudi Arabia will convince ministers there to put pressure on the companies to treat all creditors equally.

Trade minister flies to Saudi Arabia to persuade defaulters to treat creditors equally