Saudis calm Norfolk hotel after tycoon owner arrest

Billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. PHOTO | AFP
Billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. PHOTO | AFP 

Kenya’s five-star hotels, including the Nairobi Norfolk, have been offered assurance by Saudi authorities of their business continuity after the arrest and freezing of their owner’s bank accounts in a corruption purge.

Saudi authorities had earlier said the government would seize any asset or property linked to the suspects in the crackdown including dollar billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who owns a string of top global hotels including Norfolk.

The corruption crackdown has sent shock waves in the business community, with fears of disruption to their businesses both in Saudi Arabia and abroad.

But the country’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs said in a Financial Times report instructed officials to ensure that activities of companies, “including those wholly or partly owned by individuals under investigation, were not disrupted while investigations into corruption were under way”.

Mr Al-Waleed, one of the world’s richest men, is the owner of Nairobi Norfolk Hotel. He was among high-ranking Saudi officials arrested on Sunday accused of money laundering, bribery, extortion and channelling government contracts to companies linked to the suspects.

Mr Al-Waleed owns a significant stake in the five-star Fairmont Raffles group. Its stable of hotels in Kenya includes the Fairmont Mara Safari Club and Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club.

The three iconic hotels, collectively boast of 290 guest rooms and suites, 51 luxury tents and over 10 food and beverage outlets.

The Saudi central bank also clarified in a statement that only individuals’ accounts, rather than those belonging to businesses, had been frozen pending legal cases against the suspects.

“In other words, corporate businesses remain unaffected,” Ahmed al-Kholifey, governor of the central bank, known as the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority was quoted saying by FT.

“It is business as usual for both banks and corporates.”

A serial investor in top global luxury hotel chains, Mr Al-Waleed has in the past 30 years single-handedly built up a fortune worth $20.4 billion (about Sh2.1 trillion) according to Bloomberg.

His investment firm, Kingdom Holdings, has snapped up for a song shares in the world’s most famous brand names including Apple, Disney, Fairmont and Four Seasons.

He also has major stakes in News Corp, Citigroup and social media company Twitter. He co-owns the Four Seasons hotel chain along with American tycoon Bill Gates. He is sole owner of London’s landmark luxury hotel, The Savoy.