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.


For Iranians, economic crisis looms larger than US tensions

Updated 11 min 21 sec ago
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For Iranians, economic crisis looms larger than US tensions

  • Iran’s 80 million people struggle to buy meat, medicine and other staples of daily life
  • Many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war

TEHRAN: Across Iran’s capital, the talk always seems to come back to how things may get worse.
Battered by US sanctions and its depreciating rial currency, Iran’s 80 million people struggle to buy meat, medicine and other staples of daily life.
Many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war, as Iran’s major concern. Iran’s rial currency traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal. Now it is at 148,000, and many have seen their life’s savings wiped out.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 12 percent. For youth it’s even worse, with a quarter of all young people unemployed, according to Iran’s statistic center.
“The economic situation is very bad, very bad. Unemployment is very high, and those who had jobs have lost theirs,” said Sadeghi, the housewife. “Young people can’t find good jobs, or get married, or become independent.”
Sores Maleki, a 62-year-old retired accountant, said talks with the US to loosen sanctions would help jumpstart Iran’s economy.
“We should go and talk to America with courage and strength. We are able to do that, others have done it,” Maleki said. “We can make concessions and win concessions. We have no other choice.”
But such negotiations will be difficult, said Reza Forghani, a 51-year-old civil servant. He said Iran needed to get the US to “sign a very firm contract that they can’t escape and have to honor.” Otherwise, Iran should drop out of the nuclear deal.
“When someone refuses to keep promises and commitments, you can tolerate it a couple of times, but then certainly you can’t remain committed forever. You will react,” Forghani said. “So I don’t think we should remain committed to the deal until the end.”
Yet for Iran’s youth, many of whom celebrated the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal in the streets, the situation now feels more akin to a funeral. Many openly discuss their options to obtain a visa — any visa — to get abroad.
“Young people have a lot of stress and the future is unknown,” said Hamedzadeh, the 20-year-old civil servant. “The future is so unknown that you can’t plan. The only thing they can do is to somehow leave Iran and build a life abroad.”