For Saudi tycoons freed from detention, cheers and a business challenge

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in the office of the suite where he was detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

Cheering supporters greeted Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal when he arrived at his skyscraper offices in Riyadh after his release from detention in an anti-corruption crackdown.

But he and other tycoons freed from a luxury hotel in the Saudi capital face a challenge to get back into the swing of running their financial empires in the uncertainty hanging over the business community since their detention in early November.

Their ability to do so could impact Saudi Arabia’s attempts to lure investors to big projects, an important part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s grand vision to transform the kingdom and reduce its dependence on oil.

“It will need another six to nine months without disruption or another witch hunt before anyone would be willing to move on anything major,” a regional banker said of the business climate. “This is not the right time to bring anything to market.”

Online footage showed Prince Alwaleed waving from a luxury car in a convoy trailed by police as he arrived this week at the Kingdom Center skyscraper one day after his release, and then walking inside with his private physician.

A source familiar with the matter said the prince received an operational update on his global portfolio, which includes stakes in Twitter, ride-hailing firm Lyft and French hotel operator Accor.

In the first few days after his detention, the share price of his investment firm Kingdom Holding 4280.SE plunged 23 per cent, erasing $2.2 billion of his personal fortune on paper.

After a jump this week, the stock has regained almost all that it lost, but during the prince’s detention the overall stock market rose 10 per cent. Kingdom shares do not reflect that gain, indicating investors are still applying a discount to his company because of the uncertainty.