Many Saudi princes have been released – quietly – from “5-star prison Ritz Carlton Hotel” after agreed to pay in exchange for their freedom. The highest corruption settlement so far is Prince Miteb bin Abdullah who reportedly paid US1 billion for his freedom. He was the closest challenger for the throne of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, before his arrest in a so-called corruption crackdown.
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah – who controlled the last of the three Saudi armed forces not yet considered to be under control of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – was the minister in charge of the Saudi National Guard before his sudden sacking. Now that Miteb has been neutralized, Crown Prince Mohammed’s path to the throne as the kingdom’s youngest king is guaranteed.
While Prince Miteb was considered a direct threat to Crown Prince Mohammed due to his powerful position in the palace, another prince – Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a grandson of Ibn Saud, the first Saudi king – was not. Therefore, when Saudi Prince Al-Waleed was arrested in the corruption crackdown, it raised 16.9-billion eyebrows.
That’s how much Prince Al-Waleed is still worth – US$16.9 billion – according to Forbes (24th Dec 2017) even as he’s still under detention Ritz Carlton Hotel Riyadh. But he can walk out anytime he likes, as long as he pays US$6 billion. Saudi authorities, according to Wall Street Journal, are demanding at least that much of the 62-year-old prince’s fortune in exchange for his freedom.
In what appears to be a dog-eat-dog world within the House of Saud which has at least 15,000 princes or princesses in the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia, it’s not hard to understand why Prince Al-Waleed was targeted by Crown Prince Mohammed. Even though Al-Waleed hadn’t demonstrated any ambitious for the throne, he’s the richest man in the Middle East.
An ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed, leaving no stone unturned, was tremendously afraid that Al-Waleed could threaten his reach to the throne due to the prince’s huge wealth. With his treasure, Prince Al-Waleed could influence the palace on the next king. But the primary reason is fabulously obvious now – he is a valuable piggybank or ATM to cash-poor Saudi Arabia.
Crown Prince Mohammed isn’t interested in putting corrupted princes behind bars. Clearly, he initiated anti-corruption drives to achieve two things – eliminates enemies and replenishes coffers, reportedly up to US$800 billion – before he is crowned. He now demands strategic assets belonging Prince Al-Waleed’s business empire including a large stakes in Twitter.
While handing over US$6 billion certainly wouldn’t bankrupt the prince, there’s one reason Al-Waleed refuses to sign on the dotted lines. It would be an admission of guilt. The people of Saudi Arabia, already very happy with Crown Prince Mohammed’s little carrot of reforms, would believe Al-Waleed is a crook who gets to walk because of the crown prince’s mercy.
Furthermore, surrendering a third of his wealth would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years. It might sound like a daylight robbery but Al-Waleed realizes that he has no choice but to give away US$6 billion to the cash-poor Saudi government currently under the control of Crown Prince Mohammed.
Prince Al-Waleed has instead offered to give the Saudi government a large chunk of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Company, in exchange for his freedom. As the market value of Kingdom Holding is about US$8.7 billion, it would be enough to meet the US$6 billion assets-for-freedom settlement, with some loose change left for the prince.
If Crown Prince Mohammed agrees to the offer, Prince Al-Waleed would be freed of bribery, money laundering, and extortion charges being slapped by Saudi’s special anti-corruption committee – a body created by a decree by King Salman and headed by the crown prince himself. But such settlement would again prove to the world how ridiculous the anti-corruption in Saudi is.
Previously, there has been reports that Prince Al-Waleed was “hung upside down” just to send a message to Crown Prince Mohammed’s enemies within the palace. The billionaire prince – who also owns Citigroup, Lyft, Apple and JD.com – was also allegedly interrogated, insulted, beaten and even tortured by American mercenaries hired by the power-hungry crown prince.
The US$6 billion settlement, if materialises, would not only make it the biggest corruption settlement in the world, it would potentially make Saudi Arabia the biggest laughing stock too. Currently, the biggest corruption settlement is the record US$3.5 billion involving Brazil “Operation Car Wash” political corruption at Petrobras.
Crown Prince Mohammed has been exposed as the secret buyer who splashed US$550 million for a super yacht “Serene” and a whopping US$450.3 million on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, a piece of art depicting Jesus Christ as a Renaissance man dressed in flowing blue robes. The spendthrift Saudi crown prince story didn’t end there.
He was also revealed to be the owner of US$300 million Chateau Louis XIV – the world’s most expensive house. But the simple fact that the chateau’s ownership was meticulously hidden through various shell companies suggests that Crown Prince Mohammed could have had involved in corruption, or at least money laundering, himself.
An investigation by the New York Times shows paper trail leading to ownership through a series of shell companies in France and Luxembourg that eventually traced back to Eight Investment Company, a Saudi firm managed by Salman’s personal foundation managers. Interestingly, Eight Investment Company was the same company used by the prince to buy “Serene” super yacht.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and leading expert on Saudi politics, said – “The image of the crown prince spending that much money to buy a painting when he’s supposed to be leading an anti-corruption drive is staggering.” Bruce also said – “He has tried to build an image of himself – that he is different, that he’s a reformer and that he’s not corrupt. But this is a severe blow to that image.”
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