Saudi Prince Alwaleed pledges $43 billion fortune to charity

Saudi Arabia's billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal gives a press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 1, 2015.
Saudi Arabia's billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal gives a press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 1, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal on Wednesday promised his entire US$32 billion (S$43 billion) fortune to charitable projects in coming years, in one of the biggest ever such pledges.

The pledge is "maybe... the first such big announcement" of its kind in the region, and is modelled on a charity established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in the United States, the Prince told reporters.

Alwaleed said his charity "will help build bridges to foster cultural understanding, develop communities, empower women, enable youth, provide vital disaster relief and create a more tolerant and accepting world".

The money "will be allocated according to a well-devised plan throughout the coming years", he said, but stressed there was no time limit for the donation to be spent.

Alwaleed said he would head a board of trustees tasked with spending the funds, which would still be used after his death "for humanitarian projects and initiatives".

The 60-year-old magnate belongs to the Saudi royal family and is a nephew of king Abdullah, who died on Jan 23.

In the conservative Muslim kingdom, Alwaleed, who holds no government rank, is unusual for his high profile and periodic comments about economic issues.

  • Background Story

  • Saudi prince becomes latest billionaire philanthropist

  • Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said Wednesday that he would leave his fortune to charitable projects in the coming years.

    The size of his personal fortune, some US$32 billion (S$43 billion), dwarfs that of most other generous billionaires who have made similar pledges in the past.

    Here some notable examples:

  • MELINDA and BILL GATES:In 2000, the richest couple in the world at the time set up the Gates Foundation to raise billions of dollars to fight disease and fund education around the world. It was based in Seattle, Washington and donated almost $4.0 billion in 2014.

  • GATES/WARREN BUFFET: In 2010, Gates, who founded the IT group Microsoft, and billionaire US investor Warren Buffet launched the Giving Pledge, a campaign to get the richest people in the US to give half their fortune to charities. Their effort went global in early 2013. Among the more than 100 billionaires who have committed themselves are Facebook founder MARK ZUCKERBERG, Oracle boss LARRY ELLISON, former New York mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, Indian IT magnate AZIM PREMJI (Wipro), Malaysian businessman VINCENT TAN, British businessman RICHARD BRANSON (Virgin), German IT boss HASSO PLATTNER (SAP), activist investor CARL ICAHN, and film producer GEORGE LUCAS. Forbes magazine estimates Gates’ fortune at US$72.9 billion and that of Buffet at US$72.7 billion.  In 2012, Buffet made a separate donation of US$1.5 billion to the Gates Foundation.

  • PATRICE MOTSEPE: The South African billionaire was the first African to respond to the Giving Pledge. His fortune, based in large part on the mining sector, is currently estimated by Forbes at US$1.64 billion. Motsepe aims to help the poor, disabled and unemployed in South Africa. In 2014, he donated a billion dollars to fight the Ebola epidemic.

  • TIM COOK: The head of Apple said this year that his entire fortune will go to charity after his death. It is currently estimated at around US$120 million, plus stock options that have a current value of around US$665 million.

"We are clearly in very close coordination with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation", which is already working with Alwaleed on a polio eradication project, he said.

"This is very much separate from my ownership in Kingdom Holding," and there should be no impact on the publicly listed company's share price, Alwaleed told reporters on the 66th-floor headquarters of the firm which he chairs.

'DRAMATIC AND DRASTIC'

But he said his charitable commitment would provide even more incentive for his business investments to be profitable.

As well as media stakes, Kingdom Holding has interests ranging from the Euro Disney theme park to Four Seasons hotels and Citigroup.

Alwaleed is constructing a tower in the Red Sea city of Jeddah that is to rise more than a kilometre to be the world's tallest building.

Earlier this year, he opened a pan-Arab news channel in Bahrain but authorities there shut the station after less than 24 hours on air and a new home is being sought.

Alwaleed last week in Paris signed a letter of intent with France's CDC International Capital to create the first French-Saudi investment fund, worth up to US$400 million.

A separate deal saw a French consortium and CDC IC invest about US$150 million in Kingdom Holding.

Alwaleed told reporters he has already donated a total of US$3.5 billion over more than 35 years through his Alwaleed Philanthropies.

The charity has distributed houses and provided electricity to isolated Saudi communities, while supporting other projects around the world.

He said he announced his pledge now, after years of preparation, to institutionalise the process "so they can continue after my lifetime".

Flanked by his son Prince Khaled and daughter Princess Reem, he said they will be president and vice-president of the charity after he dies.

"I believe that a person should take dramatic and drastic decisions at his peak," Alwaleed said, proclaiming himself to be in good shape.

"I'm very healthy, enough to bike every day three hours," he said. "I assure you my health is good."