28 January 2018

 One of the world’s richest men, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has been released two months after being detained in Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge. He is a grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud. He returned to his mansion in Riyadh. His net worth was estimated by Forbes at $17 billion. Through his investment arm, Kingdom Holding, he holds shares in Twitter, Citigroup and in top hotels including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York. 

During his detention at the plush Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh he was allowed to be interviewed by Reuters. The correspondent said that he was thinner and grayer. Like all other detainees, he was guarded in his choice of words so as not to provoke the  Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,

 Some 200 princess, business magnates and high level politicians were detained in the Ritz-Carlton hotel. The crown prince had collected information on how these rich people made their money by misappropriating state funds. They were reveled this information and were asked to surrender a part of their  wealth to gain their freedom. Most of them negotiated a settlement that was acceptable to the prosecutors and were released.

 Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was one of the last to be released because he denied any wrong doings and any negotiation on his part would mean accepting that he had done something wrong. He wanted to clear his name. Nothing is known of his terms of settlement with the prosecutors.

 Corruption is widely entrenched in the Saudi economy. No one thinks that this exercise (arrest) would eradicate corruption. Crown prince is also introducing many austerity measures to stave off the falling wealth of the country. This exercise would mitigate some of the anger over the austerity measures. It will also help in the consolidation of power of the crown prince.

 The arrests and the detention are shrouded in mystery. It started with phone calls from the Royal Court, followed by the invitation of the princes, businessmen and government ministers  for dinner with King Salman or to meetings with Prince Mohammed.

 Release of Alwaleed bin Talal marks the end of the purge. Other high-profile figures that have been released include Waleed al-Ibrahim, the head of MBC television network, and Khalid al-Tuwaijiri, a former chief of the royal court and and Fawaz Alhokair, who owns a large fashion retail company.

 Prince Alwaleed ventured into business in 1979 making investments in real estate and construction in Saudi Arabia. He quickly turned his attention to banking. He became one of the major shareholder of Citigroup. When the global financial crisis came, he increased his stake in a show of confidence. He was well rewarded and the Citi survived.