Lex of Arabia: How Greensill and Cameron tried to avoid MBS
Lex Greensill was interned in the British establishment, creating close ties with senior officials and ministers in the country and putting pressure on government contract profits.
Now, the Australian financier had a new sovereign client in mind, where wealth and power were more concentrated and the right relationships could transform the business: Saudi Arabia.
Before Greensill Capital collapsed this month, one of Lex Greensill’s favorite anecdotes was a camping trip he said he did with David Cameron and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Along with the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who was now a paid adviser, Greensill visited the desert with Prince Mohammed, the de facto leader of the kingdom, according to three people who had heard of the trip.
A person made the trip in January or February 2020, interrupting the international trip before the coronavirus spread. Greensill Capital’s records of four private jet flights show numerous trips to Saudi Arabia in the first three months of last year.
A second person who heard Greensille’s account of the trip said the Australian financier had linked him under the night sky to the Saudi king, commonly known as MBS, because the two men studied law at university.
Greensill Capital declined to comment. The Saudi embassy in London has refused.
The Financial Times has repeatedly tried to ask about Cameron’s trip to the desert camp, but the former prime minister queries aside. The role of the company’s decline has been increasingly examined after the FT revealed it he pressured former colleagues for greater access to emergency government Covid loan schemes.
Cameron, who once earned tens of millions of pounds with Greensill’s options before canceling the company’s fall, canceled a visit to Saudi Arabia in public in October 2019, participating in events called “Davos in the desert” peak in Riyadh.
The trip – a year after Saudi Arabia’s assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – was criticized by Amnesty International for interpreting the former prime minister’s assistance as “supporting the Saudi regime” despite “tremendous human rights”. record ”.
Cameron, who pays at least £ 120,000 an hour for speaking commitments, frequently used Greensill’s corporate planes to travel around the world, according to several people who knew the subject. FT also saw a photo of him on one of those elegantly equipped planes. Flight records from one of Greensill’s aircraft show numerous trips to and from Newquay Airport, which is about half an hour from Cameron’s Cornwall holiday.
Greensill’s aircraft fleet, an unusual luxury for even the largest multinational companies, was useful on another visit to Saudi Arabia.
In August 2019, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and his lieutenant general Rajeev Misra were holding meetings at the Jeddah shopping center when they were invited to visit Yasir al-Rumayyan in the Riyadh capital.
Rumayyan was the head of the country’s Public Investment Fund, the largest investor in SoftBank’s $ 100,000 million Vision Fund, which has backed valuable companies starting from Uber to DoorDash.
While the men were looking to change their flight plans, Greensill spoke out to offer a ride on his private jet. Some in attendance were surprised that the Australian had his own plane. But Greensill, then 42, recently established himself as his billionaire thanks to an investment by SoftBank in its eponymous financial company. He explained that he had not only one plane, but several.
“We need it for customers,” one attendee explained to him. “We need an air force.”
Greensill’s commitment to Saudi Arabia was multifaceted. Last June, John Luu Greensill, a senior official, spoke about the “UK-Saudi Fintech Virtual Week” at an event organized by the UK’s Department of International Trade and the British Embassy in Riyadh. The event’s marketing materials claimed the UK’s “progressive regulators” and Saudi Arabia’s “young population and technology expert”.
“We’re a company that a lot of people haven’t heard of,” Luuk said at the ceremony. “And yet at the same time, our reach is quite wide.”
Below, Greensill Capital explained that with SoftBank’s backing, Greensill Capital was not only “part of the family” of Saudi Arabia’s PIF, but also that the financial company had “recently signed an agreement to become a joint venture partner” with the sovereign wealth fund.
“Within that, we are setting up offices in Riyadh,” he added.
PIF did not respond to a request for comment.
Luu, who said his LinkedIn profile was “directing Greensill’s expansion into Saudi Arabia,” said his company had contracts with “some of the largest companies in the kingdom,” but declined to name one of them.
The company, which appeared to be the target of many years of offensive charm in the country, was controlled by the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company.
Greensill often said his company was able to win a so-called supply chain finance to Aramco to win a contract, according to people who knew the subject. Also known as reverse billing, Greensill’s signature financing technique it involves paying a discount to the company’s suppliers in advance and is known for its ability to flatter corporate balance sheets.
The finance company never provided supply chain financing to the oil company. Aramco, who also takes Rumayyan as president, refused.
Greensill was also involved in some more speculative funding proposals in Saudi Arabia.
During their trip to Jeddah in 2019, SoftBank executives explored how they could help modernize the desert kingdom in the holy city of Mecca in an Islamic pilgrimage called hajj that draws millions of visitors each year.
Vision Fund companies can play different roles: building the US to build new Katerra structures, offering facial recognition to Hong Kong’s artificial intelligence specialist SenseTime, and helping India’s Oyo set up visiting hotels for pilgrims.
And Greensill would put all of that into investment products to fund the project.
At the time, Son believed that the Australian financier was able to fund increasingly larger schemes, according to people familiar with the founder of SoftBank. Lex Greensill often presented himself with a nickname: “the guy guy.”
“It was part of the overall solution for a smart city in Mecca,” said one person who took part in the interviews. “That’s why Lex was down there. He was doing the funding. “
The great vision was never again realized.
Additional report by Anjli Raval