Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, Saudi billionaire and founder of Kingdom Holding Co. in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photographer: Mohammad Obaidi/Bloomberg)

Alwaleed Plans Kingdom Spinoff as Billionaire Weighs Deals

(Bloomberg) -- Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, just weeks after his release from detention in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton, is hunting for deals again and planning to reshape his investment empire.

The prince, in his first interview since leaving the hotel seven weeks ago, told Bloomberg Television he’s working with advisers including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to find investments as large as $3 billion for Kingdom Holding Co., his publicly traded investment firm. He also said he’s likely to split the company’s $13 billion of assets through a spinoff of its domestic property and other holdings.

“It will take some time as we are still developing that matter,” the 63-year-old nephew of King Salman said at his Riyadh apartment. “Our CEO is thinking in these terms.”

Alwaleed was the most prominent among hundreds of Saudi businessmen, government officials and princes who were swept up in November in what the government called a crackdown on corruption. Ranked the world’s 64th richest man and long the public face of the Saudi royal family to foreign executives and investors, Alwaleed made clear he wants to reassure partners that his business empire is intact and fully functioning after 83 days of confinement in the Ritz-Carlton.

“I understand it’s not going to be easy at all -- some people in business community will be doubtful, will say, ‘What’s going on?,’” Alwaleed said. “However, I assure them that everything is normal and we are functioning as we were before and we welcome them to come here to see what we’re doing in Saudi Arabia and life is back to normal.”

While the prince refused to provide the terms of his release, he described a “confirmed understanding” with Saudi authorities. Signing the document left him free to function normally with "zero guilt" and "zero conditions."

Alwaleed Plans Kingdom Spinoff as Billionaire Weighs Deals

Alwaleed gained international fame in the 1990s as a savvy investor and occasionally drew comparisons to Warren Buffett. Kingdom Holding’s current investments include stakes in Citigroup Inc., Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Twitter Inc.

Its domestic holdings, most notably a one kilometer-high tower under construction in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, make up about half of Kingdom Holding’s assets. Alwaleed said they could be spun off into a real estate investment trust.

In the meantime, Kingdom Holding is seeking to raise $1 billion to $2 billion in debt. Alwaleed described that as “firepower” for local, regional or international investments of $1 billion to $3 billion.

“Right now we are in discussions with certain companies in the U.S. for certain deals,” the prince said. “Although the market right now in the U.S. is -- I’d not say overvalued -- but prices are not where we would wish them to be.”

Alwaleed’s cousin and the architect of the anti-corruption crackdown, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will this week meet President Donald Trump. In his first trip to the U.S. since becoming heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter, the crown prince also plans to meet the heads of Apple Inc. and Google among others, according to a person briefed on the trip’s details.

Alwaleed Plans Kingdom Spinoff as Billionaire Weighs Deals

Kingdom Holding shares, which trade on Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul exchange, closed 0.2 percent higher at 9.08 riyals on Tuesday. The company’s stock has dropped almost 12 percent since Alwaleed’s Nov. 4 detention, giving the company a market capitalization of about $9 billion. The prince holds a 95 percent stake.

Saudi Arabia freed Prince Alwaleed and several of the country’s prominent businessmen from detention in late January, clearing out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail during the crackdown. Some of those who were held continue to be detained due to criminal cases.

In part because the government never confirmed the names of detained or revealed the charges or evidence against them, the roundup raised concerns among foreign investors about due process and transparency in the Saudi legal system. Alwaleed denied that detainees were treated badly during their time in the Ritz-Carlton.

“I was never tortured,” the prince said. “Actually, I was given the best service. Doctors used to come twice a day. We had the best service, best food, best everything.”

Like Prince Alwaleed, many of those who were released are returning to their lives and business as normal. Former finance minister and minister of state Ibrahim Al-Assaf led Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January.

“It’s business as usual,” Alwaleed said. “We are going to continue investing in Saudi Arabia. I was born in Saudi Arabia, I will die in Saudi Arabia.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.