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CEO of Royal Commission of AlUla Arrested on Corruption Charges – ARTnews.com

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Amr al Madani, the chief executive of the Royal Commission of AlUla, Saudi Arabia, was arrested for corruption on January 28.

The arrest will be closely watched in the art world, as Saudi Arabia is in the process of fashioning AlUla, a vast cultural project in the country’s northwest region, into a lavish tourist destination.

AlUla is part of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” plan, a multibillion-dollar initiative to develop Saudi Arabia into an international arts and culture destination. His tourism ambitions center around AlUla, a sprawl of desert and sandstone valleys dotted by 30,000 historical sites.

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Saudi Arabia has pledged more than $35 billion over the next six years to transform the region into a “living museum.” Among the initiatives currently in development are a Saudi branch of the Paris-based Centre Pompidou that is expected to open in 2028 or 2029. The museum will be created in collaboration with the Royal Commission which is already involved in an outdoor sculpture biennial, Desert X.

Saudi Media reports cite a source at the Kingdom’s anti-corruption authority (Nazaha), who said that Al-Madani is accused of “abuse of authority and money laundering“ while in his role prior to leading AlUla, the vast cultural project in the northwestern region. 

Al-Madani, who is a co-owner of the company, is accused of benefiting personally from contracts awarded by King Abdullah City Atomic and Renewable Energy (a scientific research agency) for his company. He left the company formally in 2017 to join AlUla but allegedly retained his authority while planning to obtain contracts for the company from the Royal Commission of AlUla. 

The contracts were valued at around 206.6 million Saudi Riyals ($55.1million); he received a share of the profits. Saudi media reports claim that three of the partners were also detained. After confessing, they now await trial. 

AlUla has attracted attention in the art world because it was able to find a partner abroad, France, which is a nation with many museums. In 2018, Prince Mohamed, the French President Emmanuel Macron signed a ten year exclusive agreement where France consults a slew cultural and luxury project. Per the deal, €30 million ($32.4 million) will be paid every year over the decade. 

Amr al Madani, in a published letter by The following are some of the ways to get in touch with us.Art Newspaper, praised the French partnership while also emphasizing that AlUla was eager to work with other foreign cultural bodies: “Institutions and businesses are invited to take part in the kingdom’s transformation by playing a role in the education and professional training of young Saudis, supporting the country’s economic transformation plan, Vision 2030.”

The pace of progress has slowed in recent years due to management changes and reports that French diplomats are unhappy with the current pace. 

Jean-François Charnier, the scientific director of the French Agency for the Development of AlUla, resigned from his post after being indicted in an investigation into the sale of looted Egyptian antiquities to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Charnier has denied all allegations; he was replaced by Sophie Makariou, the former president of the Musée Guimet in Paris. The agency was founded in Paris in 2018 as part of the intergovernmental agreement between France and Saudi Arabia. 

In July 2023, Gérard Mestrallet was replaced as executive chairman of Afalula, the French Agency for AlUla Development, by the former defense and foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. 

The French Agency as well as the Royal Commission did NOT immediately respond. ARTnews’s request for comment. 

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