Eleven Saudi princes and dozens of current and former officials have been arrested as part of what is officially an anti-corruption initiative, but may be politically motivated. Those arrested include one of the wealthiest people in the world, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor who has pushed to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy beyond oil.
Bin Talal, the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founder, has held stakes in companies including Apple, Twitter and Lyft. He is chairman of Kingdom Holding, a $35 billion diversified investment group whose shares dropped nearly 10% following news of bin Talal’s arrest. Bin Talal’s wealth has been famously disputed, with recent estimates varying between $20 and $30 billion.
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Bin Talal was educated in the U.S., and has been regularly described in the Western press as defying stereotypes of Saudi royalty, including by employing female staffers. Bin Talal’s arrest, as Recode points out, comes just over a week after a major investment conference aimed at bolstering his nation’s profile as a forward-thinking global player.
The arrests may undermine that image, particularly since they appear to be motivated less by fighting corruption than by a push to consolidate power by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who chairs the new anti-corruption committee that ordered the arrests.
While Saudi leaders have enjoyed warm relations with U.S. President Donald Trump, Prince Alwaleed has squabbled with Trump, including on Twitter.