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International firms pursuing Saudi Arabia over unpaid Riyadh metro bills: report

The Riyadh metro project is a key part of the Saudi capital's modernisation plan [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 April, 2021

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The payments dispute was reportedly escalated to a diplomatic level last year over payments for the Riyadh metro
Saudi Arabia has racked up billions of dollars in unpaid bills owed to international firms contracted to help build the Riyadh metro, according to a Bloomberg report on Tuesday.

Five sources who spoke to the financial news outlet said the firms pursuing payment include the US-based Betchel Corp., Spain's Fomento de Construcciones & Contratas SA, the UK's WS Atkins Ltd. and Italy's Salini Impregilo SpA, which is now known as Webuild.

Riyadh reportedly owes Betchel as much as $1 billion. The payments relate to construction delays and overruns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to three of the Bloomberg sources. The dispute escalated last year when the embassies of the US, France and Spain in Riyadh raised the matter with Saudi Arabia.

Since a 2015 slump in oil prices, firms awarded Saudi contracts have complained of overdue payments. Saudi authorities have reportedly withheld owed monies in a bid to stop the widening of its budget deficit.

Similar delays have been noted since April 2020's record crash in crude prices. Saudi officials have insisted they are committed to paying all contractors on time, according to Bloomberg.

Saudi Arabia hopes to transform its capital, which has a current population of seven million, into a sprawling metropolis of 15 million people.

The kingdom aims to improve the quality of life for people in the city with the new metro system and new entertainment facilities, including a park four times larger than Central Park in New York and 1,000 pieces of public art work installed.

The Riyadh metro project is central to the ambitious plan and is one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.

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