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MORELIA, Mexico – Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez, who presides over the second largest exhibition circuit in the world in terms of admissions, declined to comment on the ongoing controversy swirling around Saudi Arabia and its embattled Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS. The Crown Prince has been tainted by the disappearance and alleged murder of Saudi-born Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in early October. As a consequence, some 40 participants pulled out of an Investment Conference hosted by Saudi Arabia (held Oct. 23-25) in the wake of the scandal.

Cinepolis unveiled plans in April to open cinemas in the ultra-conservative kingdom not long after MBS lifted the 35-year ban on cinemas in a bid to modernize the country. The Morelia-based exhibitor entered into partnership with Saudi Arabian entertainment and hospitality operator Al-Hokair Group and Dubai-based luxury and lifestyle retailer Al Tayer Group to build a theatre circuit over the next five years. The Arab nation’s long dormant exhibition market is anticipated to grow exponentially to $1 billion in a number of years.

Meanwhile, Cinepolis’ first multiplex in the Middle East opens Dec. 15 in Bahrain. The 13-screen multiplex will be located inside a new mall under construction, said Ramirez.

Cinepolis set up offices in Dubai in 2017 as part of its bid to erect a still undetermined number of screens in the Gulf states of Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates by this year.

On Oct. 19, Cinepolis announced a strategic partnership with Indonesia’s consumer services conglomerate, the Lippo Group, and its subsidiary Cinemaxx to grow its circuit in Indonesia. This is Cinepolis’ first foray into Indonesia, adding yet another country to its growing list of 17 countries and four continents where it currently operates 5,609 screens worldwide.

“By investing in a significant minority share in Cinemaxx, we hope to spur further exhibition growth in Indonesia,” said Ramirez, adding: “We’ll be focusing on all the cinemas we’re operating for now before entering more territories.”

Cinepolis has effectively become a vertically integrated studio with the creation of a distribution arm in 2016 and a production division this year.

Run by Leonardo Cordero, Cinepolis Distribution officially launched two years ago with the release of Jonas Cuaron’s “Desert” with an initial mandate to release up to 20 pics a year, among which six to eight would be homegrown titles.

Cinepolis’ fledgling production arm, led by Enrique Latapi, made its first feature film “Perfect Strangers,” which had its world premiere in Morelia on Oct. 23. Cinepolis Distribution has slated a wide release on over 1,000 screens on Dec. 25.