Prince Alwaleed bin Talal released as Saudi probe winds down
Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has been released from detention at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, a colleague has said, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s corruption purge winds down.
“He sounded very happy, well and the same,” the colleague said.
The release of the highest-profile detainee caught in Prince Mohammed’s graft dragnet comes after other top businessmen — including the founder of the Middle East’s largest media company — were freed. The terms of their release were not clear.
Staff at the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Center were told of chairman Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim’s release in an internal email late on Friday, ending almost three months of incarceration alongside hundreds of businessmen, ministers and princes as the state investigates alleged corruption.
Their release appears to indicate that the purge is winding down, with the gilded penal facility expected to reopen next month as a five-star hotel.
In an interview with Reuters in his room at the Ritz, Prince Alwaleed, who has stakes in companies such as Twitter and Citigroup, said he expected to be released within days. Maintaining his innocence, he said he was finalising the “misunderstanding” through discussions with the government to clear his name and expected to resume normal life at the helm of his investment company, Kingdom Holding.
He wants to leave the Ritz in “complete vindication,” Prince Alwaleed’s colleague said. Without commenting on the “final discussions,” he said Kingdom Holding would remain under his ownership and he did not expect any assets to be transferred to the state.
The authorities have described the anti-graft drive as a strong message that corruption will not be tolerated as the crown prince seeks to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil. The purge, also consolidating the prince’s power by sidelining potential rivals, has alarmed global investors who will be needed for his wide-ranging economic reform plans.
The FT reported on Friday that Saudi authorities have been seeking to take control of Middle East Broadcasting Center, the leading commercial broadcaster in the Arab world with a 50 per cent audience share in the kingdom.
The final details of any settlement remain unclear. Initial demands that Mr Ibrahim transfer ownership have more recently been modified to include a proposal that he continue to work at MBC with a new board.
A Saudi official told Reuters that there would be no change to MBC’s share ownership structure.
Some other detainees have also been released after reaching financial settlements with the authorities, Reuters reported, including retail magnate Fawaz Alhokair, former royal court chief Khalid al-Tuwaijri and Prince Turki bin Nasser.
The authorities say they have recovered billions of dollars from detainees who have signed financial settlements in lieu of legal action on graft charges. Others have been released without charge. As many as 95 holdouts unwilling to settle charges could be transferred to prison to face trial, the authorities have said.
The government, seeking $100bn in recoveries, will have to rely on asset seizures rather than cash, the finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, said on Thursday.
Western bankers say Saudi attempts to recover cash from overseas bank accounts have proved fruitless.
“They are very smart people — they don’t leave cash in bank accounts, they find ways to hide this money in various assets,” Mr Jadaan told a session at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos.