A Saudi Billionaire's Detention Is Making Some Investors Nervous : Parallels Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was swept up in early November with more than 200 other Saudi businessmen and princes in a massive anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A Saudi Billionaire's Detention Is Making Some Investors Nervous

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One of the world's most famous and flashy billionaires is among those being detained at a luxury hotel in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was swept up, along with more than 200 other businessmen and princes, in a massive anti-corruption campaign in November. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is more than just a member of Saudi Arabia's ruling family. He's a businessman believed to be worth about $20 billion, with significant investments in many Western companies - including Citigroup, Twitter and Time Warner. And he enjoys the spotlight.

SIMON HENDERSON: He enjoys his reputation - both as an international tycoon and for his relationships with international business figures. Frankly, he's also flamboyant.

NORTHAM: That's Simon Henderson, a specialist on Saudi Arabia at the Washington Institute. He says Prince Alwaleed is also known for philanthropic works and for comfortably rubbing elbows with the world's movers and shakers.

HENDERSON: He's just been a good example of modern Saudi Arabia. And all of a sudden, he falls from favor.

NORTHAM: There's been no sign of Alwaleed since he was detained back in November as part of an anti-corruption crackdown. Allison Wood, with the consultancy company Control Risks, says many investors and analysts are trying to figure out what's happened to him. She says Alwaleed's company, Kingdom Holdings, offers no clues.

ALLISON WOOD: The official reaction from Kingdom Holdings has been to say that it's broadly business as normal. I don't know that a lot of people really believe that, necessarily, given that its largest shareholder has not been heard from for several weeks at this point.

NORTHAM: People are still trying to figure out why Alwaleed was detained in the first place. Ayham Kamel, with the Eurasia Group, says Alwaleed may have got on the wrong side of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who's trying to reform the economy and needs buy-in from the business community. Kamel says Alwaleed hasn't invested in ventures sponsored by the crown prince.

AYHAM KAMEL: In the last few months, although he has been supportive of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's reform efforts, he has not put money behind where his mouth is.

NORTHAM: The Washington Institute's Henderson says Saudi Arabia's crown prince wants to oversee business decisions across the kingdom and is trying to consolidate power.

HENDERSON: The crown prince is clearly not a person you want to get on the wrong side of. It would be bad for your business and might well be bad for you.

NORTHAM: Allison Wood, with Control Risks, says, for whatever the reason Alwaleed was picked up, his continued absence is making foreign investors nervous.

WOOD: Investors are certainly concerned about where Alwaleed is. It's certainly introduced a great deal of uncertainty for companies that have associations with him.

NORTHAM: Some of those detained have been released after paying a settlement. The Eurasia Group's Kamel says Alwaleed certainly has the money to get out of his gilded prison but may be digging in his heels.

KAMEL: I think it's to make a point - and also to reach a deal that works for him as well.

NORTHAM: And until then, associates and business partners of Alwaleed can only guess about his fate. Jackie Northam, NPR News.

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