Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal insulted by Forbes' low rank
Alwaleedbin Talal says magazine's list of billionaires underestimates his worth by US$9.6b and he's insulted at being in 26th position
For most people, even featuring in the Forbes list of the world's billionaires would be cause for celebration, but for Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, appearing at No26 with US$20 billion was an insult.
The prince, one of the most influential businessmen in the Middle East, insists the list undervalues him by US$9.6 billion. He has vowed to sever all ties with Forbes' reporters and accused them of damaging American-Saudi relations.
In response, the editor of the influential list has written a stinging rebuke saying Alwaleed considers a top-10 ranking one of his priorities, systematically exaggerates his wealth and spends more time and effort than any other businessman on attempts to boost his ranking - even more than Donald Trump.
Forbes' estimate puts him behind Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But Alwaleed, a nephew of the Saudi king whose investments are run by his Kingdom Holding Company, estimates his own wealth at US$29.6 billion, which would catapult him into the top 10.
Forbes said Alwaleed's camp wrote four letters in the build-up to the list's publication to secure a favourable valuation.
In one, his chief financial officer, Shadi Sanbar, said an undervaluation "strikes in the face of improving Saudi-American bilateral relations and co-operation. Forbes is putting down the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that is a slap in the face of modernity and progress".
But Forbes hit back, with billionaire list editor Kerry Dolan explaining it no longer considers the share price of Alwaleed's Saudi-listed Kingdom Holdings an accurate reflection of its value.
She said the share price would soar by up to 136 per cent in the weeks before Forbes locked in the valuation to calculate its rankings in the past three years.
"The value that the prince puts on his holdings at times feels like an alternate reality, including his publicly trading Kingdom Holdings, which rises and falls based on factors that, coincidentally, seem more tied to the Forbes billionaires list than fundamentals," she wrote.
In a scathing character assessment, Dolan described the prince as a vainglorious businessman in the "absurdly opulent" surroundings of his marble-clad palaces filled with portraits of himself.
"Of the 1,426 billionaires on our list, not one - not even the vainglorious Donald Trump - goes to greater measure to try to affect his or her ranking.
"In 2006 when Forbes estimated that the prince was actually worth US$7 billion less than he said he was, he called me at home the day after the list was released, sounding nearly in tears."
The shares in Kingdom Holdings, his vehicle for investments in Citigroup, Newscorp and Apple, among others, would rise in the 10 weeks before the Forbes list was finalised.
In 2010, its shares rose 57 per cent, despite shares in Citigroup falling 20 per cent in the same period. In 2011, the same happened, with a 31 per cent rise in Kingdom's shares, and in 2012 they jumped 136 per cent.
A former Alwaleed executive told Forbes that market manipulation in Saudi Arabia was rife. "This is the national sport … There are no casinos. It's the gambling site of the Saudis," he said.
Sanbar said Kingdom Holdings decided that Forbes had no intention of improving the accuracy of its valuation of the firm's assets, despite years of working openly with Forbes and pointing out problems in its methodology. He said they would now focus on working with the Bloomberg Billionaires index, which valued the prince's wealth at US$28 billion.