RIYADH (Reuters) - Following are excerpts of a Reuters interview with Saudi Arabia’s billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, detained in the kingdom’s sweeping corruption probe.
He spoke with Reuters for 30 minutes in a suite at Riyadh’s opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel, where he has been held since November. It was the first time the prince, one of the nation’s most prominent businessmen, has spoken publicly since his detention.
Q: The main question is this: why are you here?
“There are quite a number of people here. Obviously we are in full cooperation with the government because I am part of the government. I am part of the Saudi ruling family. So we are just in full cooperation here. We are continuing our discussion. I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”
Q: What are the charges against you?
“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government. Rest assured this is a clean operation that we have and we’re just in discussion with the government on various matters that I cannot divulge right now. But rest assured we are at the end of the whole story. And I’m very comfortable because I’m in my country, I’m in my city, so I feel at home. It’s no problem at all. Everything’s fine.
“What triggered this discussion between me and you really are all the rumours that appeared, on the BBC especially, which upset me a lot. And it’s all lies, frankly speaking. I’ve been always all the time here at this hotel and everything’s been fine. I exercise, I stretch, I swim, I walk. I have my diet food. Everything’s fine; it’s like home.”
“I call my family everyday and it’s like my office here. I’m in touch with my office everyday: my private office, my Kingdom [Holding] office, my philanthropic entities. Everything’s functioning. All these rumours really upset me, because they went so far.”
Q: Which rumours upset you specifically?
“I saw them on the BBC and others, that Alwaleed was sent to some other place, the main prison, and that he’d been tortured. All lies. It’s very unfortunate.
“I was planning to do an interview when I got out, which I think will be imminently, a matter of days. But I decided to accelerate the process and accept this interview today because these various rumours took place. They’re unacceptable completely. They are just a bunch of lies.”
Q: As it’s been explained to you, what are the accusations that led to you being held here?
“Look, I’m a high-profile person: nationally, regionally and internationally, correct? I’m involved in so many projects. 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. There’s nothing specific. All the discussions are in general terms. I told the government I’d stay as much as they want, because I want the truth to come out on all my dealings and on all things that are around me.”
Q: Which dealings do they say were inappropriate?
“There is nothing to do with inappropriate or appropriate. Everything was appropriate.”
Q: It’s an anti-corruption investigation -
“That’s the big title: anti-corruption. But many people left here with no charges at all - zero. Clearly because I am involved in so many projects nationally, regionally, internationally, so many interests, so I told them: ‘Please, take your time. Look at everything. I have nothing to hide. Everything’s pure and clean. So look at everything, and then when you are done, we’re done.’
“Actually it was proposed that I could leave here a few days ago and I said no ... I’ll stay here until everything is finished 100 percent because it’s very important to come out of this clean and pure. And that’s what is going to happen.”
Q: What kind of settlement is under discussion? How much is the government asking for? Are they asking for assets or stakes in companies?
“I read about this in Bloomberg, actually. They said they wanted a big percentage of Kingdom Holding and would like to get $6 billion. All these are false. Actually, I wasn’t going to reply to these allegations until I left, but because of this torture issue ... that upset me a lot, so I accepted an interview.”
Q: Will there be a financial settlement when you leave?
“Not necessarily. I cannot divulge, because there are two parties here. So far, we’re talking and so far, so good. 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. We’re investors all over the world.
“It’s very important when you come out of here, to come out with complete vindication. That’s my objective ... I asked not to leave here until I am vindicated. Step by step, we’re reaching that stage.”
Q: How do you expect this will be resolved? Will you make a donation of some sort? Will you give up stakes in companies?
“We are in discussion with the government right now. I cannot give you access to the final discussion with them, but we are at the final stage of it. We are there.”
Q: Was this in any way political? Does it perhaps have to do with your father, Prince Talal, not supporting Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power? Or is it truly about corruption?
“It has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with economics, nothing to do with corruption. But just unfortunately, I’m in this place to vindicate myself. I really would like to stay here until the vindication is 100 percent. I can tell you right now we are almost 95 percent there.”
Q: What do you expect will happen after you leave the Ritz? Will you stay 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. For sure. My allegiance is not on the table ... For the king, crown prince, Saudi Arabia, it’s non-negotiable.”
Q: Do you expect to retain ownership of Kingdom Holding and stakes in companies like Citigroup?
“Yes, Kingdom Holding will remain under my ownership, the same ownership.”
“All these companies are part of Kingdom Holding, which has investments nationally, regionally, internationally and has the highest-price tower in Jeddah.”
“If I retain my ownership in Kingdom Holding, then obviously all the stakes will be retained because they are owned by Kingdom Holding.”
Q: Do you expect that any assets at all will be transferred to the state?
“No, no, really. I don’t expect anything at all, because really there is nothing, nothing at all.”
Q: Are you able to speak with the leaders of your company?
“Yes. Whenever Kingdom Holding representatives need to talk to me, they come talk to me, they meet me.
“I speak to them whenever needed, sometimes daily, sometimes every two or three days.”
“And my family, I just talked to my son and daughter today. I talked to my granddaughters today.”
Q: Do you expect that you’ll maintain ownership of your homes in Saudi Arabia?
“Yes. Frankly speaking, I know you may ask the question: if that’s the case, then why are you here? I understand, every person is innocent until proven guilty. I’m a Saudi citizen and a member of the royal family, and I know people are asking why Alwaleed is here. It does not make sense, because they know I am very involved in charity, philanthropy ... So there’s a contradiction, I understand this. But you know, there’s a misunderstanding and it’s being cleared. So I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out, and life goes on.”
Q: Has there been any discussion of pledges of future income, a donation of some sort or a promise to investment in Aramco or the PIF projects?
“No, no, nothing. Zero.”
Q: So you would not make some kind of donation?
Q: What exactly will you do after your release?
“Same old story, nothing else. I’ll go outside, I’ll go to my office, I’ll go the desert on the weekend. I’ll continue being a vegetarian – a vegan, actually.”
Q: Could you describe your average day here in the Ritz?
“Those are my tennis shoes here. I walk, I swim, I exercise, I stretch. I have a programme. I watch the news.”
Q: When you hold your discussions with the government, what do they ask about?
“That I cannot divulge. But we’ve been working in Saudi Arabia for the last 30 years. We have now a new leadership in Saudi Arabia, and they just want to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. And I said: ‘Fine, that’s fine with me, no problem at all. Just go ahead.’ I’m very, fully cooperative.”
Q: Is there any chance this case could go to trial or that you could go to prison?
“Zero chance for trial. Zero chance for prison. Matter of days, I’m telling you.”
Q: Do you think this process has been a just one? Is this process good for Saudi Arabia?
“To me, they’ve been fair and honest, and I’ve been fair and honest with them. Saudi Arabia had corruption, there’s no doubt about that ... It’s unfortunate that an anti-corruption person became mired in this whole thing, which is a fact that I accept. A lot of people came here, around 300, and I think the majority are out now and actually the majority are innocent. The rest have settlements ... but that’s between them and the government.
“In the last decade, a lot of money was wasted ... Some members of government were involved in corruption. I think that it’s healthy to weed them out and get Saudi Arabia clean and pure.”
“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.”
Reporting by Katie Paul; Editing by Mark Potter