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.
"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".
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.
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.