Prince Alwaleed Becomes Saudi’s Puppet – Forced To Divert Money Into NEOM City

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Mar 13 2018
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year, you should know that Saudi billionaire Alwaleed has been released. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was released in January, more than 2 months after he was taken into custody in a sweeping crackdown on corruption. A senior Saudi official said Alwaleed was freed after he reached a financial settlement with the Saudi attorney general.


His release and the acknowledgement of a financial settlement put to rest the speculations why Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old favourite son of King Salman, initiated the so-called anti-corruption operation. It was all about money, never about fighting corruption from the beginning. And the reason was to replenish the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s drying coffers.


Prince Alwaleed’s detention was particularly worrying for foreigners because of his international prominence as an investor in top Western companies such as Twitter and Citigroup, 21st Century Fox, George V Hotel in Paris and the Plaza in New York. The prince’s net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at US$17 billion.

Prince Alwaleed - After Released From Detention

After his release from “detention” (early November 2017) at Riyadh’s 5-star Ritz-Carlton, Alwaleed quickly described his confinement as a “misunderstanding” and said he supported reform efforts by Crown Prince Mohammed. The billionaire said – “There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government.”


However, nobody actually believes its business as usual after the crisis. Alwaleed granted a 30-minute interview to Reuters, including a tour of his suite, partly to shoot down rumours about mistreatment and that he had been moved from the hotel to a prison. He was previously reported to be tortured and hung upside down “just to send a message.”


The Wall Street Journal had reported that the kingdom could replenish as much as US$800 billion from the operation under the pretext of crackdown on corruption. So far, Saudi Arabia says it has already recovered more than 400 billion riyals (US$107 billion) from people arrested. But what investors still don’t know is how much has Alwaleed surrendered.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Al-Waleed

So, how much was the price of his freedom in exchange for his charges – bribery, money laundering and extortion – to be dropped? Prince Alwaleed reportedly offered to give the Saudi government a large chunk of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Company, so that he could walk free in the assets-for-freedom settlement.


While the prince denied that the government agreed to take US$6 billion from Kingdom Holding, as Crown Prince Mohammed had reportedly demanded, he refused to disclose the actual settlement. Now, we might know how much his freedom has cost him – everything he owns in Kingdom Holding plus his expertise in making money.


Although Alwaleed is released from detention and remains chairman of Kingdom Holding, the Saudi government reportedly has final say over decisions at the investment firm. The Wall Street Journal’s source has indicated that investment decisions are now subject to approval by the government. Kingdom Holding’s investment portfolio includes US$12 billion across the world.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed - Kingdom Holding Company

Not only Kingdom Holding’s investment has fallen into the hands of the Salman family, Alwaleed’s personal investment portfolio is also under government control. It appears that there’s a new boss, arguably Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was clever enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. That goose is none other than Prince Alwaleed.


Essentially, Alwaleed is now working for the son of King Salman. Already, it has been revealed that the government has intervened in a major real estate project, ordering senior managers at Kingdom Holding to abandon the Jeddah Tower (previously known as Kingdom Tower), which would be the world’s tallest skyscraper costing a whopping 4.6 billion riyals (US$1.23 billion).


As Crown Prince Mohammed’s plan for Aramco’s listing hits a significant setback that the IPO reportedly needs to be postponed to 2019, the future Saudi King desperately needs money to jumpstart US$500 billion NEOM City, another pet project covering 26,500 sq km. Hence, Kingdom Holding was instructed to divert its focus and financial strength on NEOM City instead.

Saudi Arabia NEOM City - Map

Saudi knew it would be a dumb move to confiscate Alwaleed’s stake in Kingdom Holding. Without the prince on the steering wheel driving the investment firm, investors would sell off the company in droves. Crown Prince Mohammed knows nuts about investing, let alone managing investments in more than a dozen sectors around the world.


More importantly, Crown Prince Mohammed does not want to spook investors that the royal family could rob their assets anytime the kingdom wishes to, the same way they did to Alwaleed. It seems the settlement between Prince Alwaleed and Crown Prince Mohammed is more than money. Like a puppet, Saudi wants the prince to work like a slave generating money for the Salman family.


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