$6 billon ransom to release Alwaleed

Prince Alwaleed meets the UK Prime Minister Theresa May during her visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this year

The Saudi Arabia authorities are demanding $6 billion to release Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist, arrested in a so-called anti-corruption sweep by government officials last month in Riyadh, writes Pat Lancaster.

Alwaleed is being held hostage at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh, along with dozens of  the kingdom’s leading businessmen, a number of members of the royal family and various government officials, both past and present, as part of a series of arrests known to have been instigated by 32 year old Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman. The Crown Prince has let it be known  he intends to purge the kingdom of the corruption that has plagued it for decades. However while many salute his worthy aims, many others fiercely dispute his methods and the people he has chosen to target. The hostage escapade is widely regarded as a crude aim to exhort much needed cash to help Saudi Arabia fulfil its ambitious economic development plan.

Many of the original group incarcerated in the Ritz Carlton in November have since been released having paid to secure their freedom. The fee demanded for Prince Alwaleed, at $6 billion, is believed to be among the highest ransoms demanded by the authorities but few people believe Alwaleed will give in to the outrageous demands.

Allegations levelled against Prince Alwaleed include extortion, bribery and money laundering. However, hard evidence against the outspoken reformist has yet to be presented and many of Alwaleed’s associates at home and abroad seriously doubt that any  will be found. The word on the street is that it is not his deeds but the extent of Prince Alwaleed’s fortune  – believed to be in excess of  $18.5 billion – that made him a target for arrest.

The 63 year old Prince has amassed a vast portfolio that includes holdings in CitiBank, Disney, Twitter and London’s Savoy hotel.  “Prince Alwaleed is an astute businessman who has made an enormous fortune but his associates widely describe him as a man of integrity and honour. Ironically, the situation in which he  finds himself, is the price he is being asked to pay for his success,” a seasoned Saudi analyst told The Middle East Online.

It comes as no surprise to anyone who has had dealings with him that Prince Alwaleed has refused to pay the $6 billion ransom for his release, believing to do so would amount to an admission of guilt. It is also probable that raising the $6 billion ransom in a short time would impact adversely  the business empire he has spent his life building. 

A source close to the Prince told The Wall Street Journal: ““He wants a proper investigation into the charges being made against him which he emphatically disputes.”

In an interview with the New York Times last month, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said that some 10 per cent percent of government funds had been lost to corruption each year since 1980. He added that 95 per cent of those caught up in the corruption probe had agreed to paying settlements but he noted: “About 1 per cent are able to prove they are clean and their case was dropped right there. About four percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court.”

A retired Saudi Arabian diplomat told The Middle East Online: “There is no doubt Saudi Arabia needed reform but Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has gone about it in entirely the wrong way. It is  immoral and plainly wrong to simply target rich members of Saudi society, incarcerate them and demand money for their release. Some of the people locked up in the Ritz, Prince Alwaleed among them, are heroes to young Saudi men and women, people who have brought benefits to Saudi Arabia and its people. This whole sorry affair has cast the Crown Prince and the kingdom in a bad light. Mohammad Bin Salman claims he wants reform to bring the kingdom into the 21st century but, if that is the case, he has chosen an extraordinary way to initiate such change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.