Saudi Arabia’s king of bling purged

The arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a pusher of liberal reform in Saudi Arabia, has come as a surprise to many.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal: under arrest

This content is subject to copyright.

"It is perhaps surprising that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal did not at least try to make a dash for the border," says the Daily Mail. Saudi Arabia's most prominent international investor was detained in "the midnight blitz of arrests" triggered by his cousin, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS. He has "two private jets", around 300 cars, and a 282ft superyacht that once belonged to Donald Trump. But it appears the Saudi authorities came knocking "before the king of bling had a chance to grab the keys to his toys".

Advertisement - Article continues below

Prince Alwaleed, who owns, or has held, big stakes in companies such as Apple, Citicorp and News Corps, "is a man who can move markets", says the Financial Times. Worth an estimated $18bn, he is the richest man in Saudi, aside from the king. He has long used his "global renown" to push for liberal reform. That makes his inclusion in Mohammed bin Salman's corruption crackdown all the more "extraordinary", says The Times.

Alwaleed's development of "Saudi-Western brands" such as the Four Seasons hotel chain, or his Rotana TV entertainment business is the model used by MBS in his own reforms. And he's supremely well-connected. When he re-opened his £220m Savoy Hotel in London after renovations, his old chum, the Prince of Wales, did the honours.

Some have suggested there is "bad blood" between the two Saudi princes, says The New York Times. Certainly, he derives from a maverick branch of the family. His father, Prince Talal, known as the "Red Prince", spent years in exile "after leading a kind of leftist revolt among royals in 1962". As a result, Alwaleed moved with his mother the daughter of a former Lebanese prime minister to Beirut before heading to the US for college. His first investments were in construction, but the deal that brought him to prominence was his 1991 rescue of the US bank, Citicorp. Since 2008, he has steered more of his cash into tech, including Uber rival Lyft.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Alwaleed hasn't been immune to controversy. His hedonistic lifestyle, and the retention of dwarves in his retinue, gave rise to reports of "dwarf-tossing", whichhe has denied. In 2016, he began a Twitter spat with Trump, calling him "a disgrace" to all America. Trump retorted that Alwaleed was trying "to control our US politicians with daddy's money. Can't do it when I get elected." This can't have gone down well with MBS an avowed admirer of Trump, says The New York Times.

Some have speculated that purging Alwaleed was a means of demonstrating that no one is immune from scrutiny. Yet the billionaire doesn't appear to have posed any threat. He had lately emerged as "a vocal supporter" of MBS's reforms and had even encouraged a friend, fled into exile, to return. "An enlightened mind like you should be with us now building the fourth Saudi state under Mohammed bin Salman," Alwaleed texted. He may now be regretting his naivety.




Top four financial villains of the last 20 years

Despite MoneyWeek’s 1,000 issues, we struggled to find a page of material on people we considered particularly worthy of honour. We were spoilt for ch…
26 May 2020

Great frauds in history... Lee B. Farkas’s dodgy mortgages

Lee Bentley Farkas transformed TBW into one of the largest mortgage brokers in the US – his fraud is reckoned to have cost around €3bn.
20 May 2020

The making of Warren Buffett

The man who “triumphed in the long game by practising a simpler, purer version of capitalism” is widely hailed as the world’s greatest living investor…
17 May 2020

Great frauds in history: the downfall of Ferdinand Ward – the "Napoleon of finance"

Ferdinand Ward launched a Ponzi-style scheme based on fictitious government contracts, bringing down the Marine National Bank.
14 May 2020

Most Popular

Industrial metals

Governments’ money-printing mania bodes well for base metals

Money is being printed like there is no tomorrow. Much of it will be used to pay for infrastructure projects – and that will be good for metals, says …
27 May 2020
Investment strategy

Are you a permabear? Three red flags to watch out for

Contrarian investors are often seen as bearish because the market tends to go up over time. But if that bearishness goes too deep, you risk seriously …
26 May 2020
EU Economy

Here’s why investors should care about the EU’s plan to tackle Covid-19

The EU's €750bn rescue package makes a break-up of the eurozone much less likely. John Stepek explains why the scheme is such a big deal, and what it …
28 May 2020