Saudi Prince Arrest Touches Many


HONG KONG — With the arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the prominent billionaire investor, Saudi Arabia has touched one of the richest and most influential investors in the world.

Among Prince Alwaleed’s crown jewels: sizable stakes in Twitter, Lyft, Citigroup and 21st Century Fox. He has gone into business with some of the corporate world’s biggest titans, from Bill Gates to Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg.

His investments span the globe, including the historic George V hotel in Paris, the Savoy in London and the Plaza in New York. He has also invested in the AccorHotels chain and Canary Wharf, the London business development.

So vast are his investments that he has been referred to as the Warren Buffett of the Middle East. He speaks regularly about the financial world, such as his recent comments expressing skepticism over Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

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Prince Alwaleed’s arrest is likely to reverberate across dozens of companies that count the investment company that he founded, Kingdom Holding Company, as a major investor or shareholder.

It could also shake investor confidence in Saudi Arabia as the kingdom tries to shed its image as an oil-dependent petrostate. The move comes just days after Saudi Arabia held a major investment conference to drum up interest in that effort.

The arrest, which was part of a sweep that included at least 10 other princes as well as current and former ministers, came just hours after the creation of a new anti-corruption committee by King Salman, who gave it broad powers to freeze the assets of anyone it considers corrupt.

Prince Alwaleed made early bets on some of the tech world’s biggest stars, also including Snap, riding a boom that has catapulted many young entrepreneurs to top the rich lists, and earned him handsome returns. Prince Alwaleed also made an early bet on, a Chinese online retailer, anticipating that country’s emergence as a vast e-commerce market.

In moments of corporate crises, Prince Alwaleed has stepped in to tip the balance.

When the phone hacking scandal rocked a London tabloid owned by the Murdochs, the prince went on the BBC to say that Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive officer of the British unit of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, had to resign. “You bet she has to go,” he said in July 2011. She resigned the next day.

At the time, Prince Alwaleed was the second-biggest shareholder in News Corporation, with a more than 6 percent stake. He later sold most of his stake in the company. He also owns a stake in 21st Century Fox, which was a part of News Corporation until it was spun off into a separate listed company in 2013. The prince played a leading role in the shareholder vote to split the two companies, as the second most powerful shareholder behind the Murdoch family.

In the darkest hours of the 2008 financial crisis, Prince Alwaleed said he would increase his stake in Citigroup, in a move of solidarity with the then-embattled bank’s chief executive officer, Vikram S. Pandit.

Later, when Mr. Pandit faced a rebuke from angry shareholders over a 2012 pay package that totaled $15 million, the prince said he voted for it, according to a recent interview in Vanity Fair.

Prince Alwaleed has worked closely with some of Wall Street’s biggest and best known banks and investors.

Just a month ago, Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, sat across from Prince Alwaleed at a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The two talked about investments and economic developments in the Middle East. A longtime banker for Kingdom Holding, Goldman Sachs recently helped Prince Alwaleed’s company acquire a 16 percent stake in Banque Saudi Fransi, the Saudi bank.

When he traveled to New York in 2016, Prince Alwaleed met with Mr. Blankfein and Mr. Bloomberg. After a meeting, Mr. Bloomberg agreed to support news programming on the Alarab News Channel, a venture that Prince Alwaleed owns privately.

Kingdom Holdings has played a role in top leadership at AccorHotels, in which it has a 5.8 percent stake. A recent news release showed pictures of Prince Alweleed laughing with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was asked to join the board of the French hotel chain earlier this year.

The arrest could shake confidence in Saudi Arabia as it tries to diversify its economy. The kingdom is planning to list the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco next year in what is expected to be the biggest initial public offering in history.

President Trump on Saturday publicly called for Saudi Arabia to list the company in the United States.

Andrew Ross Sorkin contributed reporting from New York.

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