Saudi authorities on Saturday announced that they have freed Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal nearly three months after his arrest as part of a vast anti-corruption purge, a first the oil-rich kingdom.
The 62-year-old Billionaire Prince was the highest-ranking figure of the 350-plus political and business leaders to have been placed under house arrest, notably at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, as part of a campaign launched on Nov. 4 by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The conditions for his release were not clear in the immediate future.
“He is free,” said a close associate of the billionaire, who requested anonymity. Contacted by Agence France-Press, the Saudi Ministry of Information did not wish to comment.
In recent weeks, several of the arrested figures have been released and the authorities have indicated that most have agreed to a financial arrangement in return for their release.
On Friday, the authorities released Walid al-Ibrahim, owner of the Arab satellite network MBC, Khaled Tuwaijri, former head of the royal court, and Turki ben Nasser, former head of the country’s meteorological agency, a source close said.
According to the Financial Times, Walid al-Ibrahim has agreed to give up control of Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), one of the most influential satellite networks in the Arab world.
Other recently released figures include Prince Metab bin Abdullah, son of the late King Abdullah, former head of the powerful Saudi National Guard, who was fired before his arrest.
The purge of November came after the establishment of an anti-corruption commission chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the king and nicknamed “MBS”.
Some saw in the purge an attempt by Prince Mohammed to consolidate his power. But the Saudi authorities insist that the purge was only aimed at tackling endemic corruption. According to the Attorney General, at least $ 100 billion has been embezzled or used for corruption for decades.
Ranked among the most important fortunes in the world, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is the grandson of two historical figures of the Arab world: King Abdelaziz al-Saoud, founder of Saudi Arabia, and Riad al-Solh, first chief of government of Lebanon.
The announcement of the arrest of the billionaire prince had caused a stir in the financial markets, including lowering the share price of Kingdom Holding Company, the international investment company of which Prince Al-Waleed holds 95%.
Forbes magazine estimated the Prince’s net worth at $ 18.7 billion, putting him in 45th place in his latest ranking of world fortunes.
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was also known for his outspokenness and his calls for a more open Saudi society.
Defender of the rights of women, he launched at the end of 2016 a strong call for women in Saudi Arabia to get the right to drive and lamented the “economic cost” of the ban on driving for women. Nearly a year later, his appeal was heard and women will be allowed to drive from June 2018.