DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Waleed bin Talal — the billionaire tycoon arrested in an anti-graft crackdown by his cousin Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — is no stranger to controversy and making headlines.
Ranked among the richest men in the world, the 62-year-old investor is the grandson of two of the Arab world’s most high-profile historic figures: King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and Riad al-Solh, Lebanon’s first prime minister.
Prince Al-Waleed first burst into the business-meets-politics scene in the late 1980s, when he began building what was to become a global empire of banks, luxury hotels and media holdings.
Over the next decade, the prince cultivated an image as a canny investor, proponent of Saudi modernisation and, eventually, staunch critic of Donald Trump.
In 2015, he slammed Trump on Twitter for his rhetoric during the US presidential campaign, calling him a “disgrace to America” and urging him to drop out.
In his response, Trump ridiculed him on Twitter as a “dopey prince”.
Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s future king, is meanwhile a close ally of Trump.
On the surface, the cousins appear to share the same views, both supporting the right of women in the kingdom to drive. But reports of intense rivalry between the two have also long featured in royal circles.
Prince Al-Waleed’s arrest is likely to send shock waves across a host of companies that count him as a major investor.
The Kingdom Holding Company — in which the prince has a 95 percent stake — owns The Savoy in London, the Fairmont Plaza and the famed George V hotel in Paris.
A taste for luxury
The prince, known for having a taste for luxury, also has stakes in Lyft, Twitter, News Corp, Euro Disney and 21st Century Fox.
Kingdom Holding’s share price dropped 7.6 percent at the close of the Saudi stock exchange on Sunday, in the wake of news of its owner’s arrest.
Forbes estimates his worth at $18.7 billion, landing him in position number 45 on its list of billionaires this year.
He is also an active philanthropist who donates, by his own account, millions of dollars each year to charities.
An arch defender of women’s rights in a country where women face a raft of restrictions, and an outspoken proponent of political reform, the prince has never made a secret of his views.
A vocal supporter of the five pillars or tenets of Islam, he has nonetheless blamed Saudi tradition for holding women back from advancing in society. He has said he once financed the flight training of an aspiring Saudi woman pilot.
The businessman spent his college years in upstate New York and northern California, earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Menlo College in Silicon Valley and a master’s degree in social science from Syracuse.
Al-Waleed first appeared on Forbes’ list of billionaires in 1988, one year after the annual list was first published. In line with his reputation as a lover of the press, Forbes said it was the prince himself who had first contacted the magazine.