Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Major Letshego shareholder arrested in native Saudi Arabia

When he came to town for the second time 12 years ago, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia easily became the talk of the town.

He checked into Gaborone Sun Hotel (renamed Avani Gaborone Resort & Casino) with a 50-strong entourage whose tipping, according to hotel staff, was the local equivalent of bequeathing part of one’s estate. One of the richest men in the world, the prince reportedly bought up all bicycles in a store and there was a story in the press about him and his aides doing a round trip from the hotel to Game City in the dead of night. He had visited Gaborone three months earlier and in addition to a formal meeting with then president, Festus Mogae, acquired 34.9 percent equity share-holding in Letshego Holdings Limited, a Botswana Stock Exchange-listed micro lending company that provides micro financing to individuals in full time employment.

While the company that the prince has substantial shareholding in is doing very well locally and regionally, he is not. A week ago, the prince was arrested alongside 10 other Saudi princes, four sitting cabinet members and scores of former ministers, military officers and business leaders on the orders of a new anti-corruption committee. The official explanation is that the arrests are part of an aggressive push to root out corruption that has long plagued the Saudi kingdom. The unofficial explanation is that the arrests are a ploy by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the anti-corruption committee himself, to consolidate power. The crown prince is the King’s Salman’s son and there is speculation that he might succeed him as early as next year.

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has major holdings in United States companies like Twitter, Apple and Citigroup. Shares in his investment firm, Kingdom Holding, tumbled 9.9 percent on the New York Stock Exchange a day after his arrest. There is no indication that the arrest has had an adverse impact on his Letshego shareholding but that would depend on what the Saudi government does to his businesses. A senior government lawyer with deep knowledge of investment says that what has been alleged so far against the prince has no adverse implications for his shareholding in Letshego. 

Two years after his trip to Botswana, the prince told US magazine, Forbes:  “In the west, they are just focusing on situations that they don’t like, such as Zimbabwe,” where monthly inflation had just topped 3700 percent. “Clearly there are risks; some countries are not stable. But they ignore places like Ghana, Angola, Botswana.”

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