Saudi Arabia announced the arrest of prominent billionaire investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The prince is listed by Forbes as the richest Arab with $18.7 billion to his name. In addition to Alwaleed’s detainment, at least ten other princes and four ministers were arrested, according to the New York Times.
The announcement of the arrests was made over Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned satellite network whose broadcasts had to be officially approved. Prince Alwaleed’s arrest will send shock waves both through the kingdom and Western financial markets.
Prince Alwaleed, who is head of the investment firm Kingdom Holding, currently owns or has owned major stakes in Apple, Twitter, News Corp, Citigroup, and many other well-known companies. Bin Talal also controls various satellite television networks watched across the Arab world.
The arrests appeared to be a move to fortify the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman.
At 32-years-old, Alwaleed is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, economic, foreign, and social policies. According to reports, due to Prince Alwaleed amassing so much personal power and at a remarkably young age, has created feelings of discontentment within the royal family.
The king approved the creation of a new anti-corruption committee, headed by the prince, just hours before the powerful committee ordered the arrests.
Al Arabiya said that the anti-corruption committee has the right to investigate, arrest, ban from travel, or freeze the assets of anyone the committee may deem corrupt.
On Saturday, the Ritz Carlton hotel, the royal hotel in Riyadh, was evacuated. This created rumors that the hotel would be used to house detained royals. In addition to this, the airport for private planes was closed. This fueled speculation that the Prince Alwaleed was seeking to block rich businessmen from fleeing before more arrests, according to the New York Times.
Last month, Prince Alwaleed gave interviews to news outlets about subjects regarding cryptocurrencies and Saudi Arabia’s plans for a public offering of shares in its state oil company, Aramco.
Alwaleed more recently got into a verbal battle with U.S. President Donald Trump. The prince was part of a group of investors who bought control of the Plaza Hotel in New York from Trump. He also bought an expensive yacht from the President as well.
However, in a 2015, Prince Alwaleed famously criticized Trump during his presidential campaign and said that he was “a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.”
President Trump fired back on Twitter and said, “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money.”
Alwaleed Talal’s swift rise has divided many Saudis. Many applaud his vision and have credited him with addressing the economic problems facing the kingdom and laying out a plan to move beyond its dependence on oil.
Many others see him as unpredictable, power-hungry, and inexperienced. Alaweed bypassing his elder relatives and concentrating so much power in one branch of the family has been a major cause for resentment.
Last month, about three White House officials including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was reportedly in Saudi Arabia for meetings that were undisclosed at the time.
Before getting into a war of words with Trump, Prince Alwaleed was publicly rebuffed by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who rejected his $10 million donation for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. The money was denied because the prince had also criticized American foreign policy, according to the New York Times.
Alwaleed may be a powerful billionaire, but he is something of an outsider within the royal family.
The Saudi prince is a pretty outspoken figure on a variety of issues. He openly supported women driving before Saudi Arabia said it would grant women the right to do so.
Back in 2015, he pledged to donate his fortune of $32 billion to charity after his death. Currently, it is unclear whether Saudi Arabia’s corruption committee might seek to confiscate any of his assets.
Allegations of corruption in Saudi Arabia are tricky to evaluate as the country is an executive monarchy and does without a written Constitution or courts. The boundaries between the public funds and the wealth of the royal family are difficult to separate.
The king replaced the minister who was in charge of the Saudi national guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah. Abdullah controlled the last of the three armed forces in Saudi Arabia. The arrests came a few hours after the minister was replaced.
The king named Crown Prince Mohammed the minister of defense in 2015. Earlier this year, the King Salman removed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as head of the interior ministry, placing him under house arrest.
Since these events, rumors have swirled that King Salman and his favorite son would soon move against Prince Mutaib. According to the Associated Press, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have embraced President Donald Trump. Trump has reciprocated and made the kingdom his first international trip after becoming President of the United States.