Image for Saudi Arabian tycoon Saleh Kamel dies, aged 79

Saudi Arabian tycoon Saleh Kamel dies, aged 79

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Saleh Kamel, the multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian businessman who owned Dallah Albaraka Group, one of the Middle East's largest conglomerates, has died at the age of 79, according to media reports in the kingdom.

Mr Kamel's Dallah Albaraka was founded in 1969 as a courier service with the name Dallah Establishment and evolved into a major conglomerate that is involved in trade, Islamic finance, real estate, transportation, healthcare, food, media and investment.

"He was one of the first true disruptors in business in the region and the Gulf," Abdulla Al Zamil, the chief executive of Zamil Industrial and chairman of Gulf International Bank KSA, told The National. "He disrupted banking and was one of the first to introduce Islamic banking and first to go private on media."

In 2012, Dallah Albaraka acquired 12 per cent stake in Belgium's Godiva, the world’s largest premium chocolate retailer, and opened the first store in Saudi Arabia that same year.

In 1993, Mr Kamel founded Arab Radio and Television (ART) to provide entertainment of sport and educational content, as well as films and documentaries for television. ART's sport channels had the license to broadcast FIFA World Cup matches and were later sold in 2009 to beIN Sports.

In 2002, Mr Kamel opened Albaraka Banking Group in Bahrain and grew the business to offer retail, corporate and investment banking and treasury services through more than 215 branches located in ten countries. He was often cited in the media as ‘the father of contemporary Islamic finance'.

In 2007, Mr Kamel's Dallah Real Estate and Tourism Development Company launched a mega project 'Durrat Al Riyadh', one of the biggest real estate projects in the kingdom at the time.

The former businessman who was born in Makkah, was also the chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce. Mr Kamel was a philanthropist and an advocate for Islamic finance and education.

The tycoon and philanthropist's wealth amounted to $2.3 billion (Dh8.4bn) as of 2017, according to Forbes' billionaires list.

Mr Kamel "was one of the most prominent businessmen in the kingdom but his role was not limited to investments, despite his work in finance and services," Mazen Al Sudairi, head of research at Al Rajhi Capital, told The National.

"He also had a role in the sphere of culture and he supported media and journalism. He owned a network of channels with cultural input. So he was a unique businessman with a modern role, that was not just restricted to economic activities,” Mr Al Sudairi added.

Mr Kamel was a member of the boards of trustees and served as a director in various institutions and foundations including the Arab Thought Foundation, King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Gifted, the Arab Academy for Financial & Banking and the Islamic Solidarity fund.

Condolences from Saudi Arabia and the Arab world poured in over social media channels.

The kingdom’s business chambers of commerce, including those in Jeddah and Madinah, offered condolences through their official Twitter accounts. Mr Kamel was also chairman of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture.

Prince Nawaf bin Faisal also offered condolences to the businessman's family, calling Mr Kamel "a friend and elder brother."

Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisia's speaker of the parliament, said Mr Kamel was a businessman who left an investment footprint in dozens of countries including Tunisia and called him "one of the pioneers of Islamic finance and Arab media."

Mr Kamel was married to Egyptian actress Safaa Abu Al Saud and had one daughter. His son Abeddallah from another wife, is the chief executive of Dallah Albaraka.

by Massoud A Derhally and Deena Kamel