Could London’s Savoy become Saudi Arabian government property? Billionaire hotel owner among dozens arrested in anti-corruption crackdown as Riyadh threatens to seize assets tied up in the alleged fraud
- According to local reports, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is one of the men arrested
- He owns London’s Savoy and has shares in Twitter, Apple and Time Warner
- Crown Prince Salman formed the anti-corruption commission by royal decree
- Eleven princes and 38 government ministers have are being held in 5-star hotels
Dozens of princes and former government ministers have been arrested in Saudi Arabia hours after an anti-corruption commission was formed.
Officials in the kingdom has frozen the bank accounts of 11 princes and 38 former government ministers, deputies and businessmen who are being held in five-star hotels across the capital, Riyadh, in the anti-corruption sweep.
Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal – who is one of the richest men in the world and owns the British capital’s top hotel the Savoy – is one of the men who has been detained.
The Saudi information ministry also stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning London’s Savoy hotel could become state property in the kingdom.
‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said.
‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’
Those detained are being held in five-star hotels across the capital, Riyadh, in the anti-corruption sweep.
Reports suggest some of the detainees are being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
A royal court official, Badr al-Asaker, on Sunday appeared to confirm the arrests on Twitter, describing a ‘historic and black night against the corrupt’.
The powerful heads of the Saudi National Guard, an elite internal security force, and the navy were also replaced in a series of high-profile sackings that sent shock waves in the kingdom.
Prince Alwaleed is one of the Middle East’s richest people, with investments in Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Citigroup, the Four Seasons hotel chains and most recently in ride sharing service Lyft.
He’s also known for being among the most outspoken Saudi royals, long advocating for greater women’s rights.
He is also majority owner of the popular Rotana Group of Arabic channels.
The government has so far only announced that an anti-corruption probe was launched, with state-linked media reporting that dozens of princes and ministers were detained without releasing their names.
In June this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed to the role after his father, King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, decided to depose former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Naye.
The king also ousted Prince Miteb bin Abdullah from his post as head of the National Guard overnight.
The prince is reportedly among those detained in the sweep, as is his brother, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who was once governor of Riyadh.
Both are sons of the late King Abdullah, who ruled before his half brother King Salman.
Saudi Twitter accounts released several other names of those arrested, such as Alwalid al-Ibrahim, a powerful Saudi businessman with ties to the royal family who runs the Arabic satellite group MBC; Amr al-Dabbagh, the former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority; Ibrahim Assaf, the former finance minister; and Bakr Binladin, head of the Saudi Binladin Group, a major business conglomerate.
Last night, ahead of the arrests, Prince Mohammed established the anti-corruption commission by royal decree.
An aviation source has said that security forces had grounded private jets in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, potentially to prevent any high-profile figures from leaving.
‘The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,’ said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University,’ they said.
‘The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shockwaves through the domestic and international business community.’
Prince Alwaleed has made several appearances on CNBC to give investment advice.
Last month he was on the network predicting bitcoin was a ‘speculative bubble that would soon implode’.
The arrests come less than two weeks after Prince Mohammed welcomed thousands of global business titans to Riyadh for an investment summit, showcasing his economic reform drive for a post-oil era.
The 32-year-old crown prince, often known as MBS, has projected himself as a liberal reformer in the ultra-conservative kingdom with a series of bold moves including the decision allowing women to drive from next June.
Already viewed as the de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government, from defence to the economy, the prince is widely seen to be stamping out traces of internal dissent before a formal transfer of power from his 81-year-old father.
It comes hours after Saudi Arabia hit and destroyed a ‘ballistic missile’ northeast from its capital Riyadh after it was launched from Yemen.
The missile was destroyed near Riyadh’s King Khaled international airport and was said to be of ‘limited size’.
No injuries or damage were reported.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Waleed bin Talal – the billionaire tycoon arrested in an anti-graft crackdown by his cousin Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – is no stranger to controversy and making headlines.
Ranked among the richest men in the world, the 62-year-old investor is the grandson of two of the Arab world’s most high-profile historic figures: King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and Riad al-Solh, Lebanon’s first prime minister.
Prince Al-Waleed first burst into the business-meets-politics scene in the late 1980s, when he began building what was to become a global empire of banks, luxury hotels and media holdings.
Over the next decade, the prince cultivated an image as a canny investor, proponent of Saudi modernisation and, eventually, staunch critic of Donald Trump.
In 2015, he slammed Trump on Twitter for his rhetoric during the US presidential campaign, calling him a “disgrace to America” and urging him to drop out.
In his response, Trump ridiculed him on Twitter as a “dopey prince”.
Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s future king, is meanwhile a close ally of Trump.
On the surface, the cousins appear to share the same views, both supporting the right of women in the kingdom to drive. But reports of intense rivalry between the two have also long featured in royal circles.
Prince Al-Waleed’s arrest is likely to send shock waves across a host of companies that count him as a major investor.
The Kingdom Holding Company – in which the prince has a 95 percent stake – owns The Savoy in London, the Fairmont Plaza and the famed George V hotel in Paris.
The prince, known for having a taste for luxury, also has stakes in Lyft, Twitter, News Corp, Euro Disney and 21st Century Fox.
Kingdom Holding’s share price dropped 7.6 percent at the close of the Saudi stock exchange on Sunday, in the wake of news of its owner’s arrest.
Forbes estimates his worth at $18.7 billion, landing him in position number 45 on its list of billionaires this year.
He is also an active philanthropist who donates, by his own account, millions of dollars each year to charities.
An arch defender of women’s rights in a country where women face a raft of restrictions, and an outspoken proponent of political reform, the prince has never made a secret of his views.
A vocal supporter of the five pillars or tenets of Islam, he has nonetheless blamed Saudi tradition for holding women back from advancing in society. He has said he once financed the flight training of an aspiring Saudi woman pilot.
The businessman spent his college years in upstate New York and northern California, earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Menlo College in Silicon Valley and a master’s degree in social science from Syracuse.
Al-Waleed first appeared on Forbes’ list of billionaires in 1988, one year after the annual list was first published.
In line with his reputation as a lover of the press, Forbes said it was the prince himself who had first contacted the magazine.