Sun, Jan 28, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Alwaleed says release is imminent

Reuters, RIYADH

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal yesterday sits for an interview in the office of the suite where he has been detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

Photo: Reuters

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, detained in the kingdom’s sweeping crackdown on corruption, yesterday said that he expects to be cleared of any wrongdoing and be released from custody within days.

Prince Alwaleed was speaking in an exclusive interview at his suite in Riyadh’s opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel, where he has been confined for more than two months along with dozens of other suspects.

It was the first time the prince, one of the nation’s most prominent businesspeople, has spoken publicly since his detention.

Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities and that he expects to keep full control of his global investment firm Kingdom Holding Co without being required to give up assets to the government.

“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” he said in the interview, conducted shortly after midnight. “I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

Prince Alwaleed appeared grayer and thinner than in his last public appearance, a television interview in late October last year, and had grown a beard while in detention.

However, he said he had been treated well, describing rumors of mistreatment and of being moved from the hotel to a prison as completely false.

He gave the interview largely to disprove such rumors, he said, showing off the comforts of the private office, dining room and kitchen in his gold-accented suite, which was fully stocked with his preferred vegetarian meals.

In the corner of his office sat tennis shoes, which he said he used for exercise. A television played business news programs and a mug with an image of his own face on it was perched on the desk.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at US$17 billion, might reassure investors in his business empire. 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.

Dozens of princes, senior officials and top businesspeople were detained when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched his purge in early November last year.

Allegations against Prince Alwaleed, who is in his early 60s, included money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, a Saudi official said at the time.

Authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise about US$100 billion for the government this way — a huge windfall for the state, which has seen its finances squeezed by low oil prices.

There have been signs the purge is winding down; several other prominent businesspeople, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have reached financial settlements with authorities, an official source said on Friday. Terms were not revealed.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude, because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent finished.

“There’s a misunderstanding and it’s being cleared, so I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out and life goes on,” he said.

After freedom, the prince said he plans to continue living in Saudi Arabia and getting back to the high-paced and complex challenge of juggling his global interests.

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