Saudi Arabia Reportedly Sets Price of Freedom for World's Richest Arab at $6 Billion

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns and runs Saudi Arabia's largest company, Kingdom Holding, which has stakes in Twitter, Citigroup and Disney

This file photo taken on February 18, 2014 shows Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal attending the Janadriya culture festival at Der'iya in Riyadh
AFP PHOTO / POOL / Fayez Nureldine

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Saudi Arabia's wealthiest man, who was detained as part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's anti-corruption purge in October, is on the hook for $6 billion to end his detention. 

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns and runs Saudi Arabia's largest company, Kingdom Holding, and has a net worth reportedly worth $16.8 billion, according to Forbes. Kingdom Holding holds major stakes in Citibank, Twitter, Four Seasons hotels and Disney. The company has lost 14 percent of its $8.7 billion market value since Prince Al-Waleed’s detention, Al-Waleed's daughter Princess Reem bin Talal was also arrested in the purge - the only woman detained by the crown prince. 

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the former commander of the Nation Guard, paid a reported $1 billion to secure his freedom at the end of November and signed a confession admitting to the corruption alleged against him.

Saudi Arabia has high hopes that a campaign of arrests to crack down on corruption will improve its chances of joining the Financial Action Task Force, a global body dedicated to combatting illicit money flows.

The kingdom, one of only two G20 nations along with Indonesia which is not a FATF member, has tried for years to shake off a reputation as a breeding ground for corruption and terror financing.

Its last attempt to join the inter-governmental body, which has 37 members, was unsuccessful in 2010 and some lobbyists may oppose the new Saudi push before an expected vote mid next year.

But achieving membership offers the possibility of strengthening Riyadh's international standing at a time when it wants foreign investors to back its multi-billion dollar transformation plan, as well as improving global financial ties for its banks.

Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom detained dozens of senior business people and government officials last month, accusing them of crimes including money laundering although not of terror financing.

Political analysts say the future king has also tried to tighten his grip on power through the purge.

The crackdown - which involved the freezing of more than 2,000 bank accounts and liaising with central banks in among others Switzerland, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - stress-tested the Saudi anti-money laundering system and found it largely effective, say sources familiar with the matter.

The system will undergo further tests in the coming weeks as Saudi Arabia targets around $100 billion of settlements with some of those detained.

"This will strengthen Saudi Arabia's position as a reformer and its efforts to move closer to a corruption-free society," said Jaspal Singh, who advises on anti-money laundering in the Middle East and North America.

"Joining FATF sets the 'tone at the top' in generating the necessary political will under Prince Mohammad to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in the anti-money laundering and governance space."

Saudi efforts to join the body are at a critical stage. In the last few weeks it hosted a visit by officials - including FATF staff and members of the body - assessing its bid. The delegates visited public and private sector institutions.

A final decision on the bid, known as the mutual evaluation, is expected when existing members vote in June 2018.

"How soon Saudi Arabia can obtain full membership will depend on the outcomes of the mutual evaluation," FATF said in a statement sent to Reuters. "If the mutual evaluation is not satisfactory, then the country must agree to an action plan to address the weaknesses identified by the assessment team."