The most prominent of dozens of princes and others arrested in a weekend "anti-corruption" sweep overseen by the heir to the Saudi throne is a billionaire whose largesse has benefited recipients ranging from the Carter Center and Clinton Foundation to Georgetown and Harvard universities and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The arrest of Alwaleed bin Talal and others was one of the first actions taken by an anti-corruption committee set up by King Salman's decree under the leadership of his son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It has been tasked to "identify offenses, crimes, persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption."
Just five months ago, the king promoted Mohammed bin Salman to the position of crown prince, deposing in the process his own nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef.
The anti-corruption arrests are being seen as the latest move by 31-year-old crown prince to purge potential rivals. Those detained included the head of the powerful National Guard, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, and the commander of the Saudi Navy, Abdullah Al-Sultan.
The inclusion among those detained of Alwaleed bin Talal – named by Forbes magazine as the world's 45th richest person, with a net worth of more than $18 billion – has been most startling.
Alwaleed is founder and chairman of Kingdom Holding Company, which is currently building the world's tallest tower, in Jeddah, and owns sizeable share stakes in Twitter and 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News Channel.
Kingdom Holding Co. said Sunday it was continuing "normal business operations" and that it "affirms the support of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
In 2005, Alwaleed's donation of $20 million to Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding was the second biggest single gift in the university's history. The center was subsequently renamed "the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding."
Another $20 million donation secured the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic studies program at Harvard. (Alwaleed at the same time gave similar gifts to programs at the Universities of Edinburgh in Scotland, Cambridge in England, and the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo.)
A year after 9/11, Alwaleed donated $500,000 to CAIR, to finance a campaign "to defend Islam" in American society. CAIR says the donation was used "to help further efforts to eradicate ignorance and misinformation about Islam."
Also after 9/11, Alwaleed fell afoul of then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who rejected a $10 million donation after the Saudi prince linked the terrorist attacks on U.S. policies in the Middle East, including its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Other influential Saudis arrested at the weekend include Middle East Broadcasting Corporation owner Waleed Al-Ibrahim – whose stable includes the Al-Arabiya television network – and Bakr bin Laden, the chairman of the Saudi Binladen Group, the construction conglomerate founded by Osama bin Laden's father.
Like Alwaleed, Bakr bin Laden has also given "$1 million or more" in cumulative donations to the Carter Center.
The Saudi Binladen Group is involved with Alwaleed in the project to construct the Jeddah Tower.
The Saudi daily Arab News quoted Attorney-General Saud Al-Muajab, also a member of the new anti-corruption committee, as saying the investigations now underway are being carried out in accordance with Saudi laws and regulations "in a manner appropriate to the nature of the crimes."
"The suspects are being granted the same rights and treatment as any other Saudi citizen," he said. "A suspect's position or status does not influence the firm and fair application of justice."