|By K Raveendran| The arrest of wealthy Saudi prince Al Waleed, whose investments ranging from Citibank to Apple to Twitter, making him the most high profile Arab investor on the global stage, may involve more than internal power struggle within the Saudi ruling establishment and the new Crown Prince’s spirited fight against corruption. Al Waleed may have paid a heavy price for his spat with Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.
President Donald Trump and Al Waleed have had a running feud during and after the American Presidential campaign, marked by acrimony and distrust. Al Waleed had described Trump as a ‘disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America’ and advised him too withdraw from the presidential race as he believed Trump will never win the election.
To which Trump tweeted: “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected”.
To his utter discomfort when Donald Trump finally won the election, Alwaleed sought to strike a conciliatory tone by Congratulating Trump and he tweeted: “President elect @realDonaldTrump whatever the past differences, America has spoken, congratulations & best wishes for your presidency.”
But as the Trump administration was perceived to be moving closer to the Saudi ruling establishment, which would have caused jitters to the A Waleed camp. Curiously enough, president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and two other high ranking administration officials had reportedly in Saudi Arabia and held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is behind the new reforms initiative. Trump’s son in law and the Crown Prince are understood to have developed close relations.
So, it was possible that Al Waleed saw it all coming. But the world woke up in the week-end with the Saudi announcement that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman removed the chief of the National Guard, along with 10 other princes, and replaced the Economy Minister. The announcement further said the king also constituted anti-corruption panel, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to prevent corrupt practices by those in the authority.
Al-Arabiya news channel reported that 11 princes and dozens of former ministers were detained in a new anti-corruption probe. It said the committee is looking into deadly floods that overwhelmed parts of the city of Jiddah in 2009 and is investigating the Saudi government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed several hundred people in the past few years.
Meanwhile, the kingdom’s top council of clerics issued a statement saying it is an Islamic duty to fight corruption essentially giving religious backing to the high-level arrests being reported.
The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts. It can also trace funds, prevent the transfer of funds or the liquidation of assets and take other precautionary measures until cases are referred to the judiciary.
The Royal order said the committee was established “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds.”
Saudi nationals have long complained of rampant corruption in government and of public funds being squandered or misused by people in power.
Alwaleed formed his company, Kingdom Establishment for Commerce and Trade in 1979, which became Kingdom Holding in 1996. Having completed his first major deal, Prince Alwaleed chose to invest the profits into Riyadh real estate – a shrewd decision that, in many ways, proved to be the foundation of the group’s success.
While analyzing other opportunities for potential value, Prince Alwaleed began to investigate the Saudi banking sector. In 1988, the company acquired a controlling stake in the ailing United Saudi Commercial Bank (USCB). With a change in management and the Prince’s guidance, USCB’s fortunes were rapidly transformed, becoming the most profitable Saudi Arabian commercial bank in just one year. With stocks in USCB having multiplied twenty-fold, the Prince negotiated a merger with the struggling Saudi Cairo Bank to create the United Saudi Bank (USB). Alwaleed then began to view the dominant Saudi American Bank (SAMBA) as a source of managerial strength and leadership that could add real value to USB. In 1999, the merger was completed, forming one of the largest banking groups in the region.
In the early 1990s it was almost unthinkable that a Saudi Arabian would burst onto the global banking investment scene from seemingly nowhere – but in 1991 that is exactly what happened. Affecting a significant coup that would catapult him into the global spotlight, he invested heavily in Citibank (subsequently Citigroup) stocks in a bold move that surprised many. That surprise rapidly turned into admiration as the Prince’s guidance helped restore the banking giant to full health, returning it to its place as the world’s leading financial institution. Alwaleed’s investment in Citigroup has since delivered an extraordinary level of return, and represents the largest proportion of his personal wealth.
Also published on Medium.