ROME – Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire and global investor who holds stakes in digital and entertainment companies such as Twitter, Apple, and Euro Disney, has been released after roughly two and a half months of detention in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, according to multiple news reports.
Alwaleed had been among 11 princes and 38 former senior Saudi officials detained in November as part of an alleged anti-corruption purge. Since then, many have been released, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner and chairman of Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), which is the Arab world’s leading satellite television network.
Prior to his arrest Alwaleed was ranked the world’s 50th richest person by the Bloomberg Billionaires index, with a net worth of about $19 billion. Known as the Warren Buffett of the Middle East, he is known to have a close rapport with media and digital moguls such as Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates. His past entertainment investments include a significant stake in Fox and the financing of Michael Jackson’s world “History Tour” in 1996.
Alwaleed is the founder of investment company Kingdom Holding, based in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The prince also controls Rotana Media Group, the world’s largest producer of Arabic music and a prominent Middle East film distributor and producer.
The Saudi government never disclosed why Alwaleed had been detained, nor did it reveal why he was released on Saturday.
But the prince, speaking to the Reuters news agency shortly before being released, said he supported the drive led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform Saudi society, which led to his arrest. “There is a misunderstanding and it’s being cleared,” he told Reuters.
“We have a new leadership in Saudi Arabia, and they just want to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. And I said: ‘Fine, that’s fine with me, no problem at all. Just go ahead,'” he added, according to Reuters.
Though it was not immediately clear whether Alwaleed left the Ritz with all his assets intact, it is believed that he was detained longer than other royal Saudi tycoons because of his dogged determination to hold on to those assets. The prince’s release is expected to reassure international markets and investors in his Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding, as well as in the Saudi economy at large.
Alwaleed is known to have progressive views. He was an early advocate of women’s employment in Saudi Arabia and of lifting the ban on women driving. The prince is likely to be in favor of the groundbreaking move made by the Saudi government last month to lift its 35-year-old ban on cinema and announced that some 300 sites with more than 2,000 screens are expected to open by 2030, building an industry that would contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the Saudi economy.