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Saudi Billionaire Alwaleed Released From Detention – OpEd

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Recent actions of Saudi government raise doubts about its real intentions that they refuse to reveal. This brings Saudi government very close to American counterpart where nothing would be leaked to public knowledge until the action is taken.

Saudi Arabia arrested in November many princes and big businessmen on charges of corruption. After that nothing was known about what action being undertaken by the government. Recently the government released a top insider prince after securing financial agreements with him. All those princes and minsters arrested have been kept in 5 star hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia announced the arrest of the prominent billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, plus at least 10 other princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers. He controls the investment firm Kingdom Holding and is one of the world’s richest men, owning or having owned major stakes in 21st Century Fox, Citigroup, Apple, Twitter and many other well-known companies. The prince also controls satellite television networks watched across the Arab world.

The Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh, the de facto royal hotel, was evacuated, stirring rumors that it would be used to house detained royals. The airport for private planes was closed, arousing speculation that the crown prince was seeking to block rich businessmen from fleeing before more arrests. Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel was transformed into a luxurious prison to hold tycoons and royals as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s bold plan to consolidate control and reform oil superpower Saudi Arabia.

Prominent Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was arrested among dozens of other royal family members, ministers in November, and top businessmen, was released after more than two months of detention on allegations of corruption, according to a family source.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17bn, may reassure investors in his business empire. Directly or indirectly through his firm, Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in companies such as Twitter, Inc and Citigroup, Inc. He has also invested in top hotels around the world, including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York City. Saudi authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100bn for the government this way.

After freedom, the prince said, he plans to continue living in Saudi Arabia and getting back to the high-paced and complex challenge of juggling his global interests.

Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. He said he expected to keep full control of his global investment firm Kingdom Holding Co without being required to give up assets to the government.

Allegations against Prince Alwaleed included money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, a Saudi official told Reuters at the time. He is also known for his outspoken views on politics – making headlines in 2015 when he called Donald Trump a “disgrace” on Twitter during the US election campaign. The prince said he was able to communicate with family members and executives at his business during his time in detention.

Squeezing of finances

In recent days there have been signs the purge is winding down. Several other prominent businessmen, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have been released, an official source told Reuters on Friday. Terms of any settlement were not revealed.

Authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100 billion for the government this way – a huge windfall for the state, which has seen its finances squeezed by low oil prices.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent finished. He said he was particularly upset by media reports that he had been sent to prison and tortured.

The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman.

Reform minded Prince Muhammad

At 32, the crown prince is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, foreign, economic and social policies, stirring murmurs of discontent in the royal family that he has amassed too much personal power, and at a remarkably young age.

The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests. The anti-corruption committee has the right to investigate, arrest, ban from travel, or freeze the assets of anyone it deems corrupt.

Prince Alwaleed was giving interviews to the Western news media as recently as late last month about subjects like so-called crypto currencies and Saudi Arabia’s plans for a public offering of shares in its state oil company, Aramco. He has also recently sparred publicly with President Donald J. Trump. The prince was part of a group of investors who bought control of the Plaza Hotel in New York from Mr. Trump, and he also bought an expensive yacht from him as well. But in a twitter message in 2015 the prince called Trump “a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.”

In early November, more than 200 people including princes, prominent businessmen, and former government officials were arrested in what officials said was a wide-ranging anti-corruption probe. More than 1,500 bank accounts of suspects were also frozen (paywall) according to the Financial Times, as the government sought to tackle “systematic corruption” and reclaim embezzled funds.

The unprecedented move is also seen as crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to tighten his grip on power, even as he marshals the kingdom to stem its dependence on oil and encourage foreign investment.

The jitters surrounding the Saudi purge continue to reverberate both in Africa and across the world with companies and family holdings wondering how the shakedown would impact their businesses, assets, and long-term investments.

Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Motjeb said in a statement that the arrests were “merely the start of a vital process to root out corruption wherever it exists.” He added that those detained will have access to legal counsel and pledges to hold trials “in a timely and open manner.” Meanwhile, King Salman appointed 26 new judges.

Al Mojeb said the kingdom’s anti-corruption campaign has netted more than $106 billion (Dh389 billion, 400 billion riyal) in financial settlements. According to a statement issued by the government’s information office, Mojeb also said that the settlement represented various types of assets including real estate, commercial entities, securities, cash and other assets. He said the total number of subpoenaed individuals reached 381, and 65 remained in custody.

Upon release, Prince Alwaleed arrived to his residence in Riyadh, the Reuters news agency reported. He and his counterparts were arrested in early November during the kingdom’s “anti-corruption purge”, and were held collectively in the country’s Ritz Carton hotel. Hours earlier in an exclusive interview, he said he expected to be cleared of charges and released from custody within days. “There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” the 62-year-old said in a televised interview. “I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

It has been reported that Alwaleed bin Talal negotiated a possible settlement with authorities in return for ending his two months detention in an anti-corruption crackdown.

According to a senior Saudi official a sum has not yet been agreed.

“He offered a certain figure but it doesn’t meet the figure required from him, and until today the attorney-general hasn’t approved it,” the official said on condition of anonymity. A second source familiar with Prince Alwaleed’s case told Reuters on Saturday that the price had offered to make a “donation” to the Saudi government, which would avoid any admission of wrongdoing, and to do so from assets of his own choosing. The government refused those terms, the source said.

 

 


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Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is a columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He is an expert on Mideast affairs, as well as a chronicler of foreign occupations and freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). Dr. Ruff is a specialist on state terrorism, the Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA), commentator on world affairs and sport fixings, and a former university teacher. He is the author of various eBooks/books and editor for INTERNATIONAL OPINION and editor for FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES; Palestine Times.

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