Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest individuals and a major investor in firms including Citigroup, Euro Disney, Apple, Twitter, 21st Century Fox, and Lyft, was arrested on Saturday night as “part of a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown that included detaining 10 other Saudi princes, four country ministers and dozens of other ministers,” USA Today reported.
The crackdown was reportedly ordered on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who has been trying to trying to sell himself as an eager reformer of Saudi Arabia’s notoriously conservative, authoritarian political culture. According to the New York Times, the king decreed the formation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee headed by the crown prince just hours before the arrests and as resentment of the crown prince’s rapid ascension to power was growing.
Prince Alwaleed’s estimated $32 billion (£24 billion) fortune includes a 95 per cent stake in investment firm Kingdom Holdings, which per TechCrunch includes a $350 million (£190 million) investment in Twitter, 2.5 per cent of Chinese retailer JD.com, and just shy of $150 million (£114 million) in Lyft. It’s possible that the anti-corruption commission, which has the power to investigate, arrest, travel ban, or freeze the assets of anyone, could seize his assets—and as the Times noted, since Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where the distinction between public and royal funds is “murky at best,” the commission has wide latitude to determine what is and is not corruption.
TrendMacro chief investment officer Donald Luskin told USA Today the potential impact on markets is less that anyone put in control of Prince Alwaleed’s assets would initiate a sell-off than that ongoing power struggles could destabilise the country.
“The risk for global markets is that the Saudi royal family destroys itself in a fratricidal game of thrones, opening the door to a new radical regime that would be hostile to US interests or play games with oil supplies,” Luskin said.
Prince Alwaleed is considered a moderate by Saudi Arabian ruling family standards, which are very limited ones given its history of brutal human rights violations, military ruthlessness, and labour abuses. He’s known for trying to making big splashes in the press by publicly raising his concerns over human rights and the region’s autocratic governments, as well as committing his fortune to charity, per the Washington Post, but also a lavish lifestyle including an alleged Wolf of Wall Street-style entourage of dwarfs. [USA Today/New York Times]