French Agency Developing AlUla in Saudi Arabia Facing Internal Audit

Afalula, the French agency contracted to help Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) develop the desert region of AlUla into an arts destination, faces an internal audit, Le Monde reported last week.  terimaqq

The news comes amid a moment of uncertainty for the unprecedented cultural project. In January, Amr al-Madani, the former chief executive officer of the RCU, was arrested on charges of “abuse of authority and money laundering“ while in his role prior to leading AlUla. The 41-year-old al-Madani allegedly used his position to gain more than $50 million (46.2 million euros) from contracts with King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, a scientific research agency, for the company he co-owned. He formally left the company in 2017 to join AlUla.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the former French foreign minister who took leadership of Afalula last July,  ordered an internal audit of Afalula “around the same time that Saudi Arabia was monitoring” al-Madani, per Le Monde’s investigation. The audit was ordered at the end of 2023 terimaqq

“This is an internal Saudi affair prior to the project, with no impact on our action,” a spokesperson for Afalula said, adding that there will be a penalty of “late payment.”

According to a separate Le Monde report Monday, Afalula’s budget doubled to about $65 million in 2023, as part of the intergovernmental agreement signed in April 2018 between France and Saudi Arabia. Per the 10-year, €30 million ($32.4 million) per year deal, France will consult on a slew of cultural and luxury projects planned for AlUla’s historic ruins and desert canyons. 

The Saudi government has already launched initiatives with the Louvre, Riyadh’s Misk Art Institute, the German Archaeological Institute, and Desert X, the California-based outdoor biennial. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan for “Vision 2030” is to open more than 200 cultural attractions in the northwest desert by 2030, tens of millions of dollars alone being invested in commissioning artworks for the once desolate Wadi AlFann in AlUla.

Meanwhile, a second Le Monde report published Monday revealed that despite the controversy, Saudi Arabia is set to fulfill a 2018 promise to finance the restoration of several French landmarks and museums. terimaqq


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