- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

Saudi investments
Certain stories have a way of circulating from publication to publication and coming back to where they started, rather like a dog chasing its tail.
That's how it was with a story last week that Saudi investors were pulling tens of billions of dollars out of the United States in response to a multibillion-dollar lawsuit filed by families of the September 11 victims.
We first saw the issue in a Reuters news agency item in which Saudi bankers and others were asked to comment on the filing the previous week of a lawsuit accusing three Saudi princes and other leading figures of funding Osama bin Laden.
The bankers, predictably, denied any involvement in such funding and claimed the demand for more than $1 trillion in damages by relatives of about 900 people killed in the September 11 attacks amounted to extortion.
The story also said the lawsuit was sparking a political backlash against the United States in Saudi Arabia. But buried near the bottom of the item was an intriguing quotation attributed to an economist named Bishr Bakheet.
"It is unacceptable for Saudis that [the princes and dignitaries] be probed," he said. "Assuming the court proceeds with this lawsuit, the Saudi investment community, already in shock, will start withdrawing their money. People are really going to walk out."
Senior editor Geoff Etnyre and I discussed making this the lead of the story, but concluded there was not enough supporting information in the story apart from the fact that Saudi investments in the United States amount to about $750 billion to back it up.
We did move Mr. Bakheet's remarks up to the third and fourth paragraphs and ran the article on the front page of Monday's paper.
It was there, presumably, that London Daily Telegraph reporter Simon English in New York saw it. In any case, the identical quotes from Mr. Bakheet were the basis of a major article in Tuesday's Telegraph that reworked the same material but built up the investment angle.

To London and back
Mr. English's lead was simple and to the point: "Saudi's richest investors are threatening to pull billions of dollars out of America in anger at suggestions they helped fund Osama bin Laden."
His story added a few details to our Reuters item he identified Mr. Bakheet as working for Bakheet Financial Consultancy and noted that total foreign investment in the United States was just $124 billion last year, compared to $301 billion in 2000.
One day after that appeared, another London-based paper, the Financial Times, had the story splashed across its front page but this time with considerably more details and some hard numbers on the amount of money already pulled out.
The lead was much like that in the Telegraph: "Disgruntled Saudis have pulled tens of billions of dollars out of the U.S., signaling a deep alienation from America."
But the FT story said the trend was under way well before the U.S. lawsuit, prompted by criticism of the Arab kingdom since 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were identified as Saudi citizens.
The article cited analysts putting the total already removed from the United States at between $100 billion and $200 billion, and quoted one of them saying the trend can be expected to accelerate because of the lawsuit.
The FT also had a new and alarming quote from the same Mr. Bakheet: "If the latest lawsuit is not thrown out in court, it will mean no more Saudi money in the U.S."
The FT, of course, is closely watched by other finance-oriented news organizations, so it was no surprise that the Bloomberg wire was offering the story for Thursday's papers.
Bloomberg pitched the story forward with a fresh angle about plans for an emergency meeting today of Saudi financial organizations to respond to the lawsuit, mentioning only in the second paragraph that some Arabs "already have been pulling assets out of the United States." Mr. Bakheet's estimate that $200 billion had already been withdrawn came much lower in the story.
We carried the Bloomberg story, but ran it at the bottom of the lead business page on the advice of economics reporter Patrice Hill, who suspects the Saudi withdrawals stem mainly from the poor stock market and the decline in the U.S. dollar which have made the United States less attractive to all investors.

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