ISTANBUL — Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire investor who was detained in Saudi Arabia more than two months ago as part of what officials called an “anti-corruption” probe, was released from custody on Saturday, according to a relative and an associate of his family.
The news of Alwaleed’s release came hours after he was quoted praising members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family in an interview with the Reuters news agency that was published on Saturday. “I can only say I’m supporting the king and crown prince in all the efforts they’re doing to really have a new Saudi Arabia,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
The arrest of Alwaleed, one of the world’s most prominent investors, had brought into sharp relief the power struggles, societal shifts and systemic changes taking place in Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the country’s young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Alwaleed was among hundreds of people, including princes, tycoons and former cabinet members, who were detained in November as the authorities in Saudi Arabia embarked on what they said was a determined and overdue campaign to root out deeply entrenched graft in the kingdom.
The arrest of so many influential Saudis was intended to send a message that no one was immune to prosecution and to signal to foreign investors that corruption would no longer be tolerated, Saudi officials said. It was part of a more ambitious and far-reaching effort to yank the moribund kingdom into the modern era, they asserted.
But the precise nature of the accusations and even details of who exactly was arrested were shrouded in mystery. The government soon disclosed that it was hoping to reach financial settlements with the accused, rather than bring criminal charges, which fed suspicions of a government shakedown rather than an earnest attempt at reform.
The detainees were not sent to police stations or prisons but to the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, the Saudi capital — fueling the perception of an elite feud, rather than a law enforcement action, and one that would be settled in private rather than a courtroom.
The hotel is scheduled to open to the public next month, signaling that a phase of the anti-corruption push was coming to a close.
The Saudi government had consistently maintained that the arrests were part of a legal process, but “there were never any charges filed,” said Karen Young, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “It was outside of the rules. You can’t see it in any other way than the government using mechanisms that are corrupt, to fight corruption,” she said.
The government has not officially disclosed how much it had received from the detainees in financial settlements. Rumors put the amount at about $100 billion. Reports that the government had taken control of assets in media and construction companies as part of the settlements suggested that the Saudi leadership was looking to “concentrate power, but in fewer hands,” Young said.
A spokesman for the Saudi government did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment on Alwaleed’s status. The conditions of his release, if any, were not immediately clear. The family associate, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding the arrest, hinted that Alwaleed had reached a financial agreement with the government and would remain in Saudi Arabia for the time being, to “make all the arrangements.”
In his interview with Reuters on Saturday — his first public comments since his arrest — Alwaleed asserted his innocence and did not disclose the details of what settlement, if any, he had reached with the government. “I cannot divulge, because there are two parties here,” he said. He portrayed his detention as the result of understandable concerns by the Saudi authorities.
“When a high-profile person like me has some doubts around him, it’s very important to clear these doubts 100 percent. I have dealings nationally, regionally, internationally, with international banks, with companies,” he said. “I have nothing to hide. Everything’s pure and clean.”
Many of his fellow detainees had left the hotel without facing charges, he added.
He consented to the interview, he said, to quell rumors that he had been mistreated or tortured during his incarceration. “All lies,” he said. He had been in regular contact with his family and his business associates, he said.
“I’m so comfortable, I’m so relaxed. I shave here, like at home. My barber comes here,” he said. “I walk, I swim, I exercise, I stretch.”
Suzan Haidamous reported from Beirut.