Millionaires & Billionaires

Freed from a gilded cage, a famed Saudi investor returns to the markets 

Kate Kelly 
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal
Mary Catherine Wellons | CNBC

Saudi Arabia's best-known investor is back in the market.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a longtime investor in international businesses including Citigroup, Twitter, Lyft and the Four Seasons hotel chain, announced a $270 million transaction with the French music-streaming company Deezer on Thursday.

The Deezer investment is the prince's first big international deal since January, when he was released from a three-month detention at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel by Saudi government officials. That lockup, from which the prince emerged grayer and thinner, was part of what Saudi officials called an anti-corruption crackdown that ensnared many of the kingdom's elites.

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Saudi officials said at the time that they had reached a settlement with the prince allowing his release. Prince Alwaleed maintained he was innocent, saying his detention was the result of a "misunderstanding."

Under the terms of the deal, the prince will receive shares of Deezer in exchange for exclusive audio and video content from the Saudi media company he controls, Rotana Group. In a statement, Prince Alwaleed said the agreement "represents one of the many premium investments that we have always sought for our shareholders."

The deal was made through the prince's investing vehicle, Kingdom Holding Company, whose business he had said he was able to conduct during his stay at the Ritz. Still, his detention raised sharp questions about Prince Alwaleed's future autonomy, including whether he could continue to invest freely in international companies and property.

The prince has made an effort to show a warm rapport with Saudi officials since his release. In February, he announced a $500,000 investment in local soccer clubs. Visitors to Kingdom's website, which says it manages $12.5 billion in assets, are now greeted with a disclaimer that the government "is in full confidence" of Kingdom Holding Company. And two weeks ago, Prince Alwaleed posted a picture of himself and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the crackdown, linking arms.

Going forward, Prince Alwaleed is primarily interested in investments in media and technology, said Kacy Grine, an investment banker and adviser to the prince. "I think the next step for the prince would be to do the same on the TV and movie side," Mr. Grine said, adding that Netflix or Amazon were potential deal partners.

The Deezer deal, Mr. Grine said, is "by definition a comeback, compared to the situation a few months ago."

Prince Alwaleed could not be reached for comment.