The slew of “detained” senior Saudi Arabian officials named in a November 4th crackdown on alleged corruption contains many very well-known names in Arabic broadcasting. The news emerged via an official Saudi decree.
The most senior media player of those named is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire behind Kingdom Holdings, and what is claimed as being the “world’s largest entertainment company” in the shape of Rotana which encompasses a movie production company, music radio channels, publishing and television broadcasting.
Alwaleed has often been described as the ‘Warren Buffett’ of the Middle East and has assets reported to be worth at least $17 billion.
Prince Alwaleed’s TV interests include the LBC-Sat channel, as well as Fox Movies, Fox, FX-TV channels (in conjunction with Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox). Rupert Murdoch is an investor in the prince’s broadcasting businesses, as is the prince in News Corp/21st Century Fox. He is also an investor in Twitter.
The prince’s key investment vehicle, Kingdom Holdings, saw its share price crash 8 per cent in trading on November 5th, and further falls on November 6th.
Sheikh Salah Kamal was the 50 per cent co-founder in 1987 of Rotana, and sold his stake to Prince Alwaleed. Sheikh Salah was, with his sons, also reportedly detained in the anti-corruption drive. Sheikh Saleh has, according to Forbes magazine, a net wealth of some $2.1 billion. He founded the Arab Radio & Television (ART) cluster of pay-TV channels, and was a key player in the early days of Middle East Broadcasting (MBC).
Kamel’s son Abdallah, also detained, donated $10 million to Yale University in 2015 to fund an Islamic law centre.
Also included in the round-up is businessman Alwaleed Al Ibrahim (and not to be confused with Prince Alwaleed) who is chairman at Middle East Broadcasting, mentioned above. Al Ibrahim has a net worth (according to Forbes) of some $10.9 billion. He funded the launch of all-news channel Al Arabiya in 2003, which is a sister station to the highly successful MBC portfolio of channels.
All of the detainees are reported to have been housed in the luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
The general view is that the Saudi state may well end up ‘fining’ or sequestrating some of the cash and other assets of the detainees. The official decree stated: “It may take whatever measures deemed necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases and take what it considers to be the right of persons, entities, funds, fixed and movable assets, at home and abroad, return funds to the state treasury and register property and assets in the name of state property.”
The official investigation committee into alleged “corruption, waste and mismanagement” is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir-apparent to the current Saudi king. The government has said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts. It can also trace funds, prevent the transfer of funds or the liquidation of assets, and take other precautionary measures until cases are referred to the judiciary.
Saudi Arabian justice can be slow, and it is understood that all communications with the new guests at the Ritz Carlton are being held incommunicado. There are also unconfirmed reports that one target of the purge, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd (a son of the late King Fahd) died resisting arrest.