For Saudi tycoons freed from detention, cheers and a business challenge

But he and oth­er tycoons freed from a lux­u­ry hotel in the Saudi cap­i­tal face a chal­lenge to get back into the swing of run­ning their finan­cial empires in the uncer­tain­ty hang­ing over the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty since their deten­tion in ear­ly November.

Their abil­i­ty to do so could impact Saudi Arabia’s attempts to lure investors to big projects, an impor­tant part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grand vision to trans­form the king­dom and reduce its depen­dence on oil.

It will need anoth­er six to nine months with­out dis­rup­tion or anoth­er witch hunt before any­one would be will­ing to move on any­thing major,” a region­al banker said of the busi­ness cli­mate. “This is not the right time to bring any­thing to market.”

Online footage showed Prince Alwaleed wav­ing from a lux­u­ry car in a con­voy trailed by police as he arrived this week at the Kingdom Center sky­scraper one day after his release, and then walk­ing inside with his pri­vate physician.

A source famil­iar with the mat­ter said the prince received an oper­a­tional update on his glob­al port­fo­lio, which includes stakes in Twitter (TWTR.K), ride-hail­ing firm Lyft and French hotel oper­a­tor Accor (ACCP.PA).

In the first few days after his deten­tion, the share price of his invest­ment firm Kingdom Holding 4280.SE plunged 23 per­cent, eras­ing $2.2 bil­lion of his per­son­al for­tune on paper.

After a jump this week, the stock has regained almost all that it lost, but dur­ing the prince’s deten­tion the over­all stock mar­ket rose 10 per­cent. Kingdom shares do not reflect that gain, indi­cat­ing investors are still apply­ing a dis­count to his com­pa­ny because of the uncertainty.

Prince Alwaleed’s predica­ment sug­gests Saudi tycoons who have long been con­tent to focus on amass­ing huge prof­its must now con­sid­er whether the government’s anti-cor­rup­tion dri­ve could stop them in their tracks.

Saudi Arabia’s attorney gen­er­al said on Tuesday that set­tle­ment deals had secured just over $100 bil­lion from mem­bers of the elite. He did not pro­vide a break­down, and Reuters could not ver­i­fy that figure.

BACK IN THE DRIVING SEAT

In anoth­er video, prop­er­ty mogul Mohammed Aboud al-Amoudi sits in a black office chair at his home in Jeddah receiv­ing kiss­es on the hand and fore­head from a pro­ces­sion of well-wish­ers who utter thanks­giv­ing for his safe return after near­ly three months in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.

A com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tive reached by phone said Amoudi was in good health.

It is as if he was trav­el­ing and returned, noth­ing more,” said the per­son who declined to be named, adding it was not clear if he would run the com­pa­ny again.

Associates of oth­er released detainees, includ­ing media mag­nate Waleed al-Ibrahim and retail bil­lion­aire Fawaz al-Hokair, told Reuters they were at home catch­ing up with fam­i­ly and close friends.

An email to MBC employ­ees seen by Reuters described Ibrahim as “fit and eager to get back”. It said he would trav­el to Dubai in a cou­ple of weeks to get “back in the dri­ving seat”.

Hokair, mean­while, is host­ing din­ners for guests, accord­ing to one attendee. The stock price of his com­pa­ny, fash­ion retail­er Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co 4240.SE, is still 13 per­cent below its lev­el just before he was detained.

It’s as if he was on a busi­ness trip or in a sum­mer hol­i­day or a reli­gious trip. He is ful­ly moti­vat­ed, full of ambi­tions,” the attendee said.

He does not talk about any­thing, he just says he was hap­py and received good treatment.”

These men are among the last group released from the Ritz, which had been used since November as a prison and inter­ro­ga­tion cen­ter for dozens of senior princes, min­is­ters and busi­ness­men and was cleared out on Tuesday.

Specific alle­ga­tions against the men and the set­tle­ments they agreed before their release were kept secret. Some may have been moved to prison after refus­ing to admit wrong­do­ing and reach finan­cial set­tle­ments; they may stand trial.

Notably absent from the final batch of releas­es were Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the king’s nephew, and dis­missed Economy Minister Adel Fakieh. Their fates remain unknown.

Two bankers said assets or cor­po­rate own­er­ship trans­fers had not yet been made for the last batch of released detainees and any han­dovers could be shield­ed from pub­lic view for some time through what one banker described as “very clever lawyers and accountants.”

Critics have described the anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign as a shake­down and pow­er move by the Crown Prince. The gov­ern­ment denies this.

As work­ers removed secu­ri­ty bar­ri­ers at the Ritz-Carlton in antic­i­pa­tion of the hotel’s reopen­ing in mid-February, recent­ly checked-out “guests” recon­nect­ed with loved ones.

Pictures shared on social media showed Alwaleed vis­it­ing an ill nephew in hos­pi­tal. On Twitter, peo­ple urged him to con­tin­ue his char­i­ta­ble activities.

By Stephen Kalin, Katie Paul Published

For Saudi tycoons freed from deten­tion, cheers and a busi­ness challenge

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