Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire tech investor, was arrested, among at least 11 princes, on Saturday night as part of a sweeping corruption investigation announced by Saudi authorities.
More than two dozen current and former ministers are reported to be detained in an anti-corruption probe, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing people familiar with the matter.
Prince Alwaleed controls the investment firm Kingdom Holding and is one of the world’s richest individuals, owning or having owned meaningful positions in Euro Disney, 21st Century Fox, as well as in News Corp. (a stake it has since mostly sold), Citigroup, and a growing number of tech companies.
Prince Alwaleed and Kingdom Holding, of which he owns 95 percent, first began investing in tech in the late 1990s and have owned shares of both Apple and eBay for more than 15 years.
He first invested US$300 million in Twitter in 2011, two years before the company’s IPO, and as of last year, remained one of the company’s largest shareholders.
In 2013, Kingdom acquired 2.5 percent of China-based retailer JD.Com, which went public on the Nasdaq the following year.
Early last year, Prince Alwaleed and Kingdom Holding further purchased a 5.3 percent stake in the car-hailing company Lyft, acquired in part by purchasing existing shares from Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund.
Also, he once announced a meeting with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel about a possible investment in Snap, yet after several months, it is reported that Kingdom had no plans to invest.
According to the New York Times, the arrests appear to be a move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a son and the top adviser of King Salman, who announced the establishment of a new anti-corruption committee — headed by the crown prince — just hours before the arrests were ordered.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is consolidating power before his octogenarian father, King Salman, is expected to abdicate either later this year or early next year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Prince Alwaleed faces charges of money laundering, the report said, citing a person familiar with the matter.
The crackdown comes as Saudi Arabia moves forward with an economic liberalization plan centered on the initial public offering of a piece of the state energy firm, Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Aramco) the largest oil producer in the world. It is estimated that the IPO could generate as much as US$100 billion.
Prince Alwaleed told CNBC last month suggesting that an even bigger portion of Aramco could be made available to investors in coming years. “I know this is our treasure, and we have to keep it. But that treasure also needs to support the country.”
Last month, he joined JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in saying bitcoin will implode. “I just don’t believe in this bitcoin thing. I think it’s just going to implode one day. I think this is Enron in the making,” Alwaleed said as the digital currency bitcoin has surged explosively this year.
“It just doesn’t make sense. This thing is not regulated, it’s not under control, it’s not under the supervision” of any central bank, he said.
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