The Richest Man in the Middle East Is Under Arrest in Saudi Arabia. Here's What We Know About His Money
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He's the richest man in the Middle East.
And now he's under house arrest.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal—best known for sporting a distinctive throwback mustache, trading in traditional Saudi garb for fine suits, and making a series of high-profile, brand-name investments—was detained this week as part of what the Saudis have called a corruption crackdown. It is not clear what specific charges have been leveled against the prince.
It's a surprising development for someone who has claimed to be the single largest foreign investor in the U.S., and a regular guest on U.S. business channels.
Prince Alwaleed, 62, has lived an unabashedly opulent lifestyle, but some of his behavior has raised eyebrows and even drawn accusations of criminal behavior. Here are five things to know about him.
He's been a huge source of financing for global tech and media companies, and is linked to powerful American businessmen.
Through various entities, Alwaleed has invested $300 million in Twitter and $105 million in Lyft. In 2016, his company, Kingdom Holding, also reported stakes in Apple, online Chinese retailer JD.com, 21st Century Fox (now in talks to be sold to Disney), and News Corp.—in fact, he was reportedly the second-largest voting shareholder in the latter company after the Murdoch family. And at one point, he was also Citigroup's largest shareholder.
"Prince Alwaleed’s arrest is likely to reverberate across dozens of companies around the world that count the investment company that he founded, Kingdom Holding, as a major investor or shareholder," the New York Times reported.
Just a month ago, the Times said, Prince Alwaleed met with Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein in Riyadh to talk about investments and economic developments in the Middle East. Goldman Sachs has been looking to expand its activity in Saudi Arabia, CNBC reports.
And last year, in a separate meeting, Prince Alwaleed met with Blankfein and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Times said; Bloomberg subsequently agreed to support news programming on the Alarab News Channel, a venture Prince Alwaleed owns privately, the Times said.
Prince Alwaleed has also worked with Bill Gates to invest jointly in Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
He has a complicated relationship with Donald Trump.
While some have called the prince the "Warren Buffett of Arabia" for his evidently keen and prolific investing acumen, he arguably has just as much in common with President Donald Trump. In fact, Talal bought a 281-foot superyacht (and James Bond film prop) from Trump in 1991 for an estimated $20 million, according to the Washington Post.
But more recently, their dealings have been less than collegial. Prince Alwaleed—who is also a prolific Twitter user—got into an online spat with Trump in 2015.
He keeps 'jesters' in his entourage.
In 2012, Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson reported about a unusual hobby Talal practiced: partying with individuals with dwarfism.
"Almost every source we spoke to, including Alwaleed's official spokesperson, confirmed that, like a medieval monarch, Alwaleed keeps in his entourage a group of dancing, laughing, joking dwarfs. One source called them 'jesters,'" Business Insider wrote.
He used them for a variety of functions, the article said.
"One time, a source told us, when the Prince was trying to decide what to buy next, he decided to give the choice to his dwarfs—teaching one the word "Boeing" and the other the word "Airbus." He called a big meeting with all his aviation advisors and had the dwarfs speak. One said "Boeing" in a funny, jesterly way. The other said 'Airbus' in the same manner. The source says Alwaleed laughed and went with the Airbus."
He's been accused of rape.
A 20-year-old model has accused Alwaleed of drugging and assaulting her on his yacht in Ibiza in 2008, according to the New York Times. The case was originally dismissed for lack of evidence, but has been reopened at least once, the Times says.
Lawyers for the woman said in an email to Money that the case has been dismissed three times.
Alwaleed has maintained that he was in France at the time of the alleged assault. “The alleged encounter simply never happened. Indeed, the events could not have happened,” a rep for Alwaleed said in a statement to news outlets in 2011. “Neither His Royal Highness nor his lawyers were informed or aware of any complaint filed in Ibiza in 2008 or that the same complaint was dismissed in 2010.”
He's losing money now—and may have had even greater financial trouble.
Since news of his arrest reached investors, he has lost more than $1 billion in net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. Bloomberg lists his net worth at about $17 billion.
Yet the Times also speculates that Prince Alwaleed may have gone bankrupt during the 2008 financial crisis—which might be connected to his detention.
"He had been highly leveraged and somehow got elements of the government to bail him out, through his connections to then-King Abdullah and the finance minister, who is also said to have been arrested," the Times reports. "Prince Alwaleed’s son Prince Khaled is married to the minister’s daughter."
“They must have uncovered evidence of irregular activity and wanted to make an example of him,” Ali Shihabi, founder of the independent Arabia Foundation in Washington, told the Times.