DUBAI (Reuters) - The detention of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, known for his big bets on Citigroup (C.N) and other top Western companies, could have an impact on billions of dollars of investments around the world.
For many foreigners, Prince Alwaleed - whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17 billion - is the face of Saudi business, appearing frequently on international television and in articles on his investments and lifestyle.
A 2013 Forbes magazine profile described his marble-filled, 420-room Riyadh palace, a private Boeing 747 equipped with a throne, and his 120-acre resort on the edge of the Saudi capital with five homes, five artificial lakes and a mini-Grand Canyon.
He is also known for his outspoken views on politics - making headlines in 2015 when he called Donald Trump a “disgrace” on Twitter during the U.S. election campaign.
Prince Alwaleed’s investments, current and future, may now be in doubt after he was detained in an investigation by a new Saudi anti-corruption body.
“There will be questions on what this all means,” said a senior executive at a European financial institution, who visited Riyadh late last month to attend a big international conference promoting Saudi Arabia as an investment destination.
“People will be looking at any kind of international holdings of the people who have been arrested, to see what will be the impact.”
His investment firm Kingdom Holding 4280.SE - whose share price plunged 10 percent on Sunday in response to news of his detention - recently bought about half of a 31.1 percent stake in Saudi lender Banque Saudi Fransi 1050.SE from France’s Credit Agricole (CAGR.PA).
Prince Alwaleed’s father was the kingdom’s finance minister during the 1960s. Prince Alwaleed formed Kingdom Holding in 1979, initially pouring money into real estate in Riyadh; in the 1990s he ventured into Wall Street, investing heavily in Citigroup.
He had a close relationship with former Citigroup Chief Executive Sanford “Sandy” Weill, and has nurtured close ties with other Wall Street leaders including Goldman Sachs (GS.N) CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
Prince Alwaleed increased his stake in Citigroup at the height of the global financial crisis a decade ago and he has held on to the stake, saying as recently as last month that he was very happy with the investment.
“He’s always been a colorful and unofficial public face of Saudi Arabia, though he has never been a key decision-maker in the kingdom,” a Gulf-based businessman said.
During the U.S. election campaign, Prince Alwaleed demanded that Trump withdraw from the election campaign after the candidate pledged to ban Muslims’ entry into the United States.
Trump responded by tweeting that the Saudi prince wanted to control “our politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it after I get elected.”
After Trump’s election victory, Prince Alwaleed said whatever their past differences, America had spoken, and he congratulated Trump on his victory.
Prince Alwaleed was an early advocate of women’s employment in Saudi Arabia and a lifting of the ban on women driving. In September, King Salman ordered that the ban should be lifted next year.
Editing by Andrew Torchia and Keith Weir