For more than a quarter-century, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has been making investments and building relationships in the West. He bailed out Citigroup, helped refinance the ill-fated Euro Disney and backed Rupert Murdoch
during the UK phone-hacking scandal.
Now, as Alwaleed passes a fourth week at a Riyadh hotel, one of hundreds of detainees in an anti-corruption crackdown, almost no one has rallied to his cause. Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, said in a statement Monday that Alwaleed, 62, has been an “important partner” in their charitable work together. Earlier this month, Citigroup
CEO Michael Corbat
called him a “consistent, loyal supporter.” They don’t have much company.
For Alwaleed, the relative silence is a skimpy return on the billions he’s invested over the years in everything from Twitter to Europe’s biggest hotel operator, Accor. Yet his situation reflects a harsh reality: As much as his friends and business associates may want to support him publicly, they’re wary of being perceived as critics of the crackdown and the man behind it, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The son of King Salman, Prince Mohammed is trying to modernise the Saudi economy
in part by weaning the country off its decades-long dependency on oil revenue. His anti-corruption drive threatens to end a patronage system that allowed royals and Saudi businesspeople to grow wealthy off government contracts and lucrative deals with multinational corporations.
Alwaleed, with a fortune of $17.2 billion, was among dozens of princes, ministers and senior officials who were rounded up the weekend of November 4. The Saudi government says it has since released a few detainees. The rest remain confined to Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel that only days earlier had played host to a conference promoting the kingdom as an attractive investment.