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Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal held: West Asia's Warren Buffet worth $17 bn, is an advocate of women's rights

Saudi Arabia’s future king has tightened his grip on power through an anti-corruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors including billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal who is one of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen.

The 62-year-old flamboyant billionaire tycoon (a nephew of the king), ranked among the richest men in the world, owns a majority stake in The Kingdom Holding Company The Savoy in London, the Fairmont Plaza and the famed George V hotel in Paris.

For many foreigners, Prince Alwaleed — whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17 billion — is the face of Saudi business, appearing frequently on international television and in articles on his investments and lifestyle.

A 2013 Forbes magazine profile described his marble-filled, 420-room Riyadh palace, a private Boeing 747 equipped with a throne, and his 120-acre resort on the edge of the Saudi capital with five homes, five artificial lakes and a mini-Grand Canyon.

Prince Alwaleed’s investments, current and future, may now be in doubt after he was detained in an investigation by a new Saudi anti-corruption body.

“There will be questions on what this all means,” said a senior executive at a European financial institution, who visited Riyadh late in October to attend a big international conference promoting Saudi Arabia as an investment destination. “People will be looking at any kind of international holdings of the people who have been arrested, to see what will be the impact.”

Aside from a stake in Citigroup, Prince Alwaleed, 62, owns significant stakes in Twitter, ride-hailing firm Lyft and Time Warner.

He was once a significant shareholder in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, but sold much of those shares in 2015.

The prince, pictured sometimes on his 85-meter (278-foot) super-yacht in the Mediterranean, is among the most outspoken Saudi royals and a longtime advocate of women's rights. He is also majority owner of the popular Rotana Group of Arabic channels.

File image of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. AP

File image of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. AP

His investment firm Kingdom Holding — whose share price plunged 10 percent on Sunday in response to news of his detention — recently bought about half of a 31.1 percent stake in Saudi lender Banque Saudi Fransi from France’s Credit Agricole.

Has close ties with many Wall Street executives

Prince Alwaleed’s father was the kingdom’s finance minister during the 1960s. Prince Alwaleed formed Kingdom Holding in 1979, initially pouring money into real estate in Riyadh; in the 1990s he ventured into Wall Street, investing heavily in Citigroup.

He had a close relationship with former Citigroup Chief Executive Sanford “Sandy” Weill, and has nurtured close ties with other Wall Street leaders including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Prince Alwaleed increased his stake in Citigroup at the height of the global financial crisis a decade ago and he has held on to the stake, saying as recently as October that he was very happy with the investment.

The prince has not been afraid to make big bets and lose billions, including backing then-CitiBank CEO Vikram Pandit amid the 2008 financial crisis. He earlier rescued the bank when it was CitiCorp in 1991. "I don't make mistakes. I make blunders," the prince told Vanity Fair in 2013. "When you make a mistake you lose $10 million, $50 million, $100 million, but when you make a mistake of $200 million to $500 million, or $1 billion, that's a blunder."

“He’s always been a colourful and unofficial public face of Saudi Arabia, though he has never been a key decision-maker in the kingdom,” a Gulf-based businessman said.

Has attacked Donald Trump in the past

Prince Alwaleed has sometimes used his prominence as an investor to aim barbs at the kingdom’s rulers. In December 2015, he called then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump a “disgrace to all America” and demanded on Twitter that he withdraw from the election.

Trump responded by tweeting: “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected.”

After Trump’s election victory, Prince Alwaleed said whatever their past differences, America had spoken, and he congratulated Trump on his victory.

With inputs from agencies

Published Date: Nov 06, 2017 09:20 AM | Updated Date: Nov 06, 2017 09:27 AM

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