Saudi Prince Alwaleed Released as Corruption Probe Winds Down

Saudi authorities expect to raise some $100 billion through settlements with the wealthy businessmen arrested in a sweeping crackdown on corruption
Alwaleed bin Talal
Alwaleed bin Talal

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was released from detention on Saturday, family sources said, more than two months after he was taken into custody in the kingdom's sweeping crackdown on corruption.

His release came hours after he told Reuters in an interview at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing and be freed within days.

A senior Saudi official said Alwaleed's release had come about after a financial settlement was reached with the attorney general.

"The attorney general has approved this morning the settlement that was reached with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the prince returned home at 1100 a.m.," the official told Reuters, without giving details on the terms.

But the decision to free him, and the release of several other well-known tycoons on Friday, suggested the main part of the corruption probe was winding down after it sent shockwaves through Saudi Arabia's business and political establishment.

"He has arrived home," one source in Alwaleed's family told Reuters.

Outside Alwaleed's Riyadh palace, dozens of cars lined the entrances, as a huge Saudi flag flapped above. Guards cracked jokes and drank coffee. His office said the prince was out visiting family, but declined to give any details.

Alwaleed had been confined at the Ritz-Carlton since early November, along with dozens of other senior officials and businessmen, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to reform oil superpower Saudi Arabia and consolidate his power.

Earlier this week, the attorney general said 90 detainees had been released after having their charges dropped, while others had traded cash, real estate and other assets for their freedom. Authorities were still holding 95 people, he said. Some are expected to be put on trial.

On Friday, an official Saudi source said several prominent businessmen have reached financial settlements with authorities, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, who was released. Terms of his settlement were not revealed.

***Huge Windfall

Saudi authorities have said they expect to raise some $100 billion for the government through such settlements—a huge windfall for the state, which has seen its finances squeezed by low oil prices.

Allegations against Alwaleed, who is in his early 60s, included money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, a Saudi official told Reuters in November.

In his first interview since he was taken into custody, conducted hours before his release, Alwaleed told Reuters that 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.

The senior Saudi official, asked if the attorney general was convinced of the innocence of Prince Alwaleed, said:

"I will not negate or confirm what he says. Generally this falls back to those who concluded the settlement, and for sure there is no settlement unless there are violations and they are not concluded without the accused admitting it in writing and promising not to repeat it."

The source declined to give further details, but confirmed that Alwaleed would remain head of the Kingdom Holding.

The release of Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17 billion, is likely to reassure investors in his global business empire as well as in the Saudi economy broadly.

Directly or indirectly through Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in firms such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc, and has invested in top hotels including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York.

He described his confinement as a misunderstanding and said he supports reform efforts by the crown prince.

"There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government," he said in the interview.

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