Where Have All the Saudi Billionaires Gone?

In 2017, there were ten Saudis on Forbes' billionaires list. This year, there are none.

Kerry Dolan explains, “Why No Saudi Arabians Made The Forbes Billionaires List This Year.”

It’s hard to imagine a faster or more audacious way to obtain billions of dollars than the route recently taken by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: force the country’s richest people to turn over their personal fortunes to the state as part of an “anticorruption campaign.”

Late last year the 32-year-old heir to the throne locked up a group of Saudi billionaires and other businessmen at an ultra-luxe prison–the 492-room, palm-lined Ritz-Carlton Riyadh. Some were his own relatives, including Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, 62, the most recognizable Saudi mogul in the West.

At least 3 other Saudi billionaires from Forbes’ 2017 list were reportedly detained. No official list of the detainees’ names was released; the press attaché at the Saudi Embassy in Washington D.C. told Forbes that it didn’t have information on specific individuals due to Saudi privacy laws.

Alwaleed and many others have been released, but checking out of the Ritz-Carlton cost billions. (Sources also told Forbes that Alwaleed is now banned from granting media interviews.) The Saudi government’s reported goal was to gather $100 billion to plug a hole in the budget that’s been growing amid years of low oil prices. There are a thousand and one stories about what precisely happened, making it impossible to know definitively who gave how much to whom when. Forbes learned that at least one tycoon who was not detained handed over assets to the government. Given these shifting sands of truth, we’ve chosen to leave all ten Saudis off our billionaires list this year; none would comment. With greater clarity regarding their wealth, some might eventually return to the ranking.

Of the ten, five were just barely billionaires, with a comparatively paltry one-point-something billion in net worth and another two had a measly two-point-something billion. But the top three, all of whom had “Prince” before their name, had some serious assets, with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal listed at $18.7 billion in last year’s rankings.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Humor, Middle East
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    If they need any consolation, as I assume all have fortunes remaining, I suggest reading about the Proscription Lists in Rome during the dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

    Short version: proscribed Romans lost their fortunes and their lives.


  2. inhumans99 says:

    The Saudi Government basically kidnapped their billionaires and only released them if they paid an outrageous ransom. I believe that Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal was told he had to give up at least 6 Billion of his personal fortune to buy his way to true freedom (being able to leave the Ritz-Carlton without fear of ending up in a confined space that does not offer room service).

    The equivalent here would be President Trump putting Bezos, Zuckerberg, Bloomberg, Elon Musk, and others into the equivalent of the Ritz-Carlton (although I guess our Ritz-Carlton is as opulent as the Saudis…so perhaps the same hotel…heh) and saying if you each do not give my crime family at least 25% of your fortunes you will shortly end up in one of Joe Arpaios’ AZ labor camps…get my drift.

    As kooky as that sounds I also believe there are fortunately enough right leaning billionaires in America that this will not happen because they would advise President Trump against such an action, after all, it would be all too easy for the President to also round up Sheldon Adelson, the Mercers, the Walmart family, and others who are more inclined to vote for the GOP so they would feel the only way to protect their fortune is to leave Bezos, and others fortunes alone.


  3. inhumans99 says:

    FYI…my comment may mysteriously reappear but for some reason it just disappeared. I did not attack another OTB member or commenter, use foul language, or include any links, but maybe the post was flagged because it sounded like one that came from a troll (I am grasping at straws here)…but I have posted before with no issues. Anyway, I just wanted to let OTB know maybe a bug nuked my post (after posting I edited the post and it looked like the edit went through fine, but maybe that was the issue).


  4. JohnMcC says:

    @inhumans99: Quite a few of us freq commenters have had similar ‘disappearing’ and ‘reappearing’ entries. I am very illiterate in this digital world but that ‘refresh’ icon in the upper left corner of my old PC seems to catch everything up.


  5. inhumans99 says:


    I actually closed out the tab, opened a new tab and typed in the outsidethebeltway url and clicked on the story link and the comment was still gone. It is only when I put up the my comment is gone post that it magically reappeared…so yes, I am aware that refresh usually does the trick. At least your snarky post put a smile on my face.


  6. James Joyner says:

    @inhumans99 @JohnMcC: Jason, our IT guy, literally just applied what he hopes is a partial fix. This is some sort of caching issue and, unfortunately, one that’s apparently on the user side and next to impossible to track down. But he’s changed the “suggestions” OTB makes to how users cache our pages.


  7. Kathy says:

    I fin I need to hit refresh often to see new posts or new comments.

    Anyway, Sulla began the proscriptions as a means of getting rid of his enemies, then they progressed to wealth and land expropriations. There were charges, too, though no trials. The charges were “enemies of the state.”

    I can see Trump the Moron attempt this against the media, but not against the big tycoons of our age. Nor does the constitution allow him to simply declare someone an enemy of the state, nor to have them executed without trial.

    So he won’t do it. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to.


  8. JohnMcC says:

    @Kathy: I watch the strange spectacle of Mr and Mrs Trump and their marital issues related to Mr Trump’s paramours. And I watch the unseemly knee-pads worn by our Christian friends and fellow citizens. And I think – Ceasar’s wife would have gotten away with it if these fools had run the decadent period of Roman history.