LONDON — Kingdom Holding Co., whose chairman is the international superinvestor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul-Aziz Alsaud, has moved quickly to reassure the markets that business is moving ahead as usual despite a massive corruption crackdown by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The multibillionaire bin Talal, whose investment portfolio includes Citigroup, Apple, Time Warner, Twitter, Lyft, Four Seasons Hotels, Eurodisney and eBay, was one of 11 princes, four government ministers and dozens of former government officials who were detained in Riyadh over the weekend. Kingdom Holding no longer has a stake in Saks Fifth Avenue.
Shares in Kingdom Holding plummeted over the weekend, dropping 9.9 percent on the Tawadul exchange in Riyadh. On Monday, shares were down a further 5.26 percent to 9 Saudi Riyal, or $2.40 at current exchange.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in full confidence with Kingdom Holding Company,” said Kingdom’s chief executive officer Talal Al Maiman on Monday. “I would also like to emphasize that KHC’s experienced and seasoned team of senior executives, who are leaders in their respective fields, are focused on their unwavering responsibilities to KHC’s shareholders and stakeholders.”
In a statement, he called KHC one of the world’s most successful diversified investment holding companies, and said the balance sheet and investment strategy remained strong.
“KHC is managing more than $12.5 billion of investments across 13 distinct sectors globally. The company enjoys a solid financial position underpinned by a prudent and conservative funding plan leveraging strategic relationships with over 15 local, regional and international banks.
“We are pleased to play a role in the continuing growth of Saudi Arabia and to strengthen the economy for the benefit of all.”
On Sunday, in the wake of the scandal, Kingdom said it was aware of “various media reports” regarding the chairman of the board, and Al Maiman said: “The support of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Kingdom Holding is a badge of honor for us. Our company’s successful strategy remains intact.”
The outgoing, American-educated bin Talal has a personal net worth of $19 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, and, according to press reports, is being held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.
Observers say the move by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose father is current King Salman, is not about consolidating power. Instead, the arrests are being viewed as a sharp move meant to show the Saudi people the country’s rulers are serious about eliminating corruption and nepotism in the Saudi royal family and among the elite, which has been viewed as rampant for decades.
Many also see it as part of a larger plan by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to liberalize Saudi Arabia and return it to a more moderate form of Islam. Bin Salman recently told the BBC that with “70 percent of the population being under 30, we can’t live with this extreme form of Islam.”
He has also said he wants to show the country’s youth that there is a path forward for everyone, regardless of their family name. Analysts believe the current lack of opportunities for young people drives them toward militant groups. In September, the Crown prince also lifted the ban on women’s right to drive in Saudi.
Ali Shihabi, the executive director of the Arabia Foundation based in Washington, D.C., who is a Saudi national, tweeted, “This is about reshaping elite behavior by picking high-profile symbols.”
He added: “This is also a move that will have wide resonance with the masses since elite indulgence has been a sore issue for decades. Picking high-profile symbols message also is that house cleaning starts at the top. Historically, anticorruption mostly targeted nonelites.”