BEIRUT, Lebanon — Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s most prominent and flamboyant investor, has been released from detention in the Ritz-Carlton in the capital after he was arrested amid a sweeping crackdown on corruption, two close associates of his family said on Saturday.
The billionaire prince was arrested in November and detained in Riyadh, along with 10 other princes and hundreds of other members of the Saudi elite, as part of what the government called a mass crackdown on corruption. But the arrests were also seen as the latest moves by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to consolidate power.
Two and a half months later, many of the high-profile detainees have been released, apparently after either being cleared or agreeing to hand over significant assets to the government. They included Waleed al-Ibrahim, the main owner of MBC; Khalid al-Tuwaijri, the former head of the royal court; and Fawaz Alhokair, who owns a large fashion retail company.
But the process has been shrouded in such secrecy that it remains unclear exactly who was detained, what they were accused of and what sort of deals they had to strike with the government to get out.
Crown Prince Mohammed, who is spearheading efforts to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil and loosen its strict social conventions, has said that he believed the campaign could recuperate more than $100 billion in ill-gotten gains
But his critics say that wrapped up in the anticorruption efforts are tactics aimed at increasing the young prince’s control of the economy while cutting down rivals for power and prominence.
The arrest of Prince Alwaleed, who is, like Prince Mohammed, a grandson of the kingdom’s founder, sent shock waves through the international business community, which had seen Prince Alwaleed as one of the more open faces of the normally private kingdom. He has been referred to as the Warren Buffett of the Middle East.
His investments include sizable stakes in Twitter, Lyft and Citigroup, and he has done business with some of the corporate world’s titans, including Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Michael R. Bloomberg.
His investments span the globe, including the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, the Savoy in London and the Plaza in New York. He has also invested in the AccorHotels chain and Canary Wharf, the London business development.
Citing privacy rules, the Saudi government never said publicly why it had detained Prince Alwaleed, but some speculated that he had taken a royal loan after his investments sank in the 2008 financial crisis and that he had never fully repaid it. Others who met the prince said he had privately criticized Prince Mohammed’s reform program as misguided, angering the young prince.
It was not immediately clear what had led to the release of Prince Alwaleed, nor was it clear if he had agreed to hand over substantial assets to the government.
Complicating the picture, a journalist from Reuters was allowed inside the Ritz early Saturday to interview the prince in what was said to be his suite. Appearing thinner and having grown a salt-and-pepper beard, he drank from a mug with his own face on it and said that his detention had been a “misunderstanding.”
“Rest assured this is a clean operation that we have and we’re just in discussion with the government on various matters that I cannot divulge right now,” the prince said, according to a transcript of the interview.
“But rest assured, we are at the end of the whole story. And I’m very comfortable because I’m in my country, I’m in my city, so I feel at home. It’s no problem at all. Everything’s fine.”
Reuters did not say whether Saudi officials had remained in the room during the interview, which could have limited Prince Alwaleed’s ability to speak freely. But a few hours later, he was released from the Ritz and returned to his home in Riyadh, according to two associates of the prince’s family who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the release had not been officially announced yet.