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Billionaire Saudi Prince Freed From Weeks-Long Ritz Detention

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, seen here in 2014, was released on Saturday from a nearly three-month detention at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton.
Majdi Mohammed
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, seen here in 2014, was released on Saturday from a nearly three-month detention at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton.

Saudi Arabia's internationally known billionaire businessman, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, was released from his luxury hotel detention in the nation's capital on Saturday, family sources told multiple media outlets.

Alwaleed reportedly reached a financial settlement with the government before returning to his home, according to Reuters.

He was the most prominent person among those arrested when several of the country's most powerful princes, businessmen and government officials, among others, were swept up in an anti-corruption raid in early November and placed under house arrest at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton.

The man behind the crackdown, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Alwaleed's cousin, was vague about the reasoning.

Shortly after the detention of 159 people, the attorney general said in a statement, "Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least $100 billion USD has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades."

But in a process cloaked in covertness, it remains unclear exactly who was arrested, who has been freed and why.

In December, the attorney general said most detainees "agreed to a settlement." Reuters reports some 90 detainees have been released and had their charges dropped, while around the same number remain in detention, with some expected to face trial.

Many view the crackdown as a power grab — and a lucrative one at that — by the 32-year-old crown prince, who is King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud's son and heir to the throne.

The New York Times reports that Mohammed has said the campaign could bring in more than $100 billion.

Alwaleed, 62, heads the investment firm Kingdom Holding Company, which has stakes in such Western behemoths as Twitter, Lyft and Citigroup.

Forbes estimates Alwaleed's net worth at $17.4 billion.

In an interview from the hotel hours before his release, Alwaleed told the wire service that he was innocent.

And he was eager to convey feelings of goodwill, despite being confined to what amounted to a plush prison, telling the wire service that he supports the crown prince's reform efforts and characterizing his detention as a misunderstanding.

"There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government," Alwaleed told the wire service.

He gave Reuters a tour of his suite and gilded office at the Ritz, saying he was able to keep in touch with family as well as business executives.

"I have nothing to hide at all. I'm so comfortable, I'm so relaxed. I shave here, like at home. My barber comes here. I'm like at home, frankly speaking," he said.

Now that he has been freed, Alwaleed is expected to return to the business of managing his investment empire.

He told the wire service that he plans to continue living in Saudi Arabia.

"I will not leave Saudi Arabia, for sure. This is my country. I have my family, my children, my grandchildren here. I have my assets here," he said.

"My allegiance is not on the table."

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Amy Held is an editor on the newscast unit. She regularly reports breaking news on air and online.

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