Prince Alwaleed reveals planned new investments in Saudi Arabia

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s detention sent shockwaves through boardrooms around the world. (Reuters)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Prince Alwaleed reveals planned new investments in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has revealed plans for a string of new investments in his first interview since being detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
Speaking exclusively to Bloomberg Television, he said that life was now “back to normal” as he gave an intriguing inside account of his detention as part of the Saudi government’s high profile anti-corruption drive.
The Kingdom Holding chief was one of the most high-profile figures to be detained at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel as part of a widespread anti-corruption drive.
In a television interview with Bloomberg, a fast-talking Alwaleed said: “I am for the anti-corruption that took place in Saudi Arabia. Now, unfortunately, I was added to that group. But fortunately, I’m out of it right now and life is back to normal.”
The prince, once dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was released from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in early January.
He was among about 350 suspects rounded up since Nov. 4, including some of the Kingdom’s most senior businessmen. As a major investor in several global corporations, his detention sent shockwaves through boardrooms around the world.
Now, after being released, he wants to reassure investors of continuity across his sprawling business empire. “I need to clear my name,” he said. “And to clear up a lot of lies.”
Specifically, Alwaleed rejected claims that he was tortured, detained in a prison and was forced to abandon work on the world’s tallest tower under construction in Jeddah, and instead transfer workers to the recently announced Neom mega-project instead.
To reinforce that point, he held up a letter that he said was from Saudi Binladin Group, the main contractor on the 1,000-meter tower.
He said: “It says the following: ‘Saudi Binladin Group would like to assure Jeddah Economic Company that it remains committed to the completion of the Jeddah project.”
Alwaleed said that no charges had been brought against him and described his detention as a “misunderstanding.”
Asked if it cost him anything to leave, he said: “I will not comment on the content of the agreement between me and the government.”
The prince also revealed how he spent his time at the now world-famous Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.
“I really divide my time into a lot of sports, a lot of walking, a lot of meditation, a lot of watching news, a lot of praying.”
The vegan prince said that while he would usually have two meals a day, when he was at the hotel he would instead have six small meals.
But while the interview painted a fascinating picture of his time at the Ritz-Carlton, the precise details of his agreement with the Saudi government were not disclosed.
Still, Alwaleed did reveal that plans were under consideration to spin off some his company’s property holdings in Saudi Arabia into a separate entity which could be a real estate investment trust (REIT).
He said that his company had invested more than $3 billion in Saudi Arabia last year and that Kingdom Holding planned to raise between $1 billion and $2 billion of new debt.
Alwaleed also revealed plans to co-invest with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
“Yes, this will happen. We are in discussion right now with PIF, so we co-invest in certain projects, yes,” he said.
Alwaleed’s interview comes just days after another Ritz-Carlton detainee, Waleed Al-Ibrahim, also outlined new business plans following his release.
The MBC chairman described plans for a new joint venture with the government in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.