|In an embarrassing legal defeat, Prince al-Walid bin Talal, one of the best-known personalities of the royal family, lost a court battle in the UK, having endured a hostile grilling and branding as “pathetic”. This is the latest in a series of setbacks to al-Walid’s carefully contrived public image. by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor|
On July 31, a UK court ruled in favor of Jordanian businesswoman Daad Sharab, who contended that she was not paid an agreed commission for brokering the sale of an Airbus 340 jet to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Prince al-Walid had bought the jumbo jet from the Sultan of Brunei for $95 million, and after years of convoluted manoeuvrings and double-dealings, the plane was finally delivered in 2006 for $120 million. al-Walid’s defence was that there was never an agreement to pay a $10 million commission, but rather that Sharab would be paid “at his discretion”. He told the court he had paid her nothing because during the proceedings she had “stabbed him in the back”, and “moved to the Libyan camp”.
Humiliating as this was, it is only the latest in a string of embarrassing public relations flops for the prince. al-Walid was in the news earlier this spring in relation to an ongoing dispute with Forbes over his ranking in the magazine’s annual Billionaires List, a spat which spilled out into the open and resulted in a fierce rebuttal from Forbes that shone an unwelcome light on his craving for recognition and need to impress. Forbes eagerly shared details of his ongoing and brazen attempts at image management, which included having his image photoshopped onto the covers of prominent magazines such as Forbes and Time, and inviting reporters to his palaces for the purpose of showing off his surroundings and possessions. Unfortunately, his over-reaching attempts to influence the Forbes staff backfired miserably, and he came off looking small and petty.
At issue was the net worth of al-Walid. Forbes staff’s ongoing concerns over the valuation of his Kingdom Holdings Co. were amplified by off-the-record comments by former associates of the prince, who spoke frankly of the ease with which market manipulations could take place on the Saudi exchange, where Kingdom is listed as a public company. (A private equity firm, Kingdom Holdings has exposure to various management, real estate and financial services companies, and also invests in industrial and energy interests.) Forbes was concerned over the apparent discrepancy between the performance of Kingdom and the broader market, particularly in light of the fact that the value of Citicorp, which comprises an outsized portion of the company’s portfolio, had declined significantly in the relevant period.
In particular, there were problems reconciling the performance of Kingdom with the underlying assets and fundamentals, made more difficult by the fact that annual reports and financial statements in recent years had not provided the names of stocks or holdings the company owns. They noted that auditors Ernst & Young had also been aware of the discrepancy between the market and Kingdom’s stock value, pointing out the small public float (5%) and thin and unusual trading (interestingly, Forbes suggested that Kingdom’s supposed value would typically shoot up in the period just before the annual Billionaires List ranking). Ernst & Young (before being replaced as auditors) used its own determination to come up with a value of $10.6 billion for his stake in Kingdom Holding, far less than was being claimed. In the end, Forbes decided (and it was a conservative estimate at that) that he was worth about $20 billion, putting him out of the top ten on the list for this year. -
|image meets reality|