Billionaire Saudi cries foul over Forbes' rich list

Prince Alwaleed claims the magazine's annual ranking of billionaires is biased against Middle Easterners. Forbes says he's in an 'alternate reality.'

By Aimee Picchi Mar 5, 2013 1:43PM

File photo of Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal in May 2009 (© YAHYA ARHAB/epa/Corbis)Forbes' annual rankings of billionaires is sparking a brawl, with accusations of bias and financial shenanigans flying between the magazine publisher and Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. 

It's an unusual place to find Forbes' billionaire list, which typically offers the more sedate amusements of providing the have-nots with a glimpse of the huge fortunes behind the likes of Microsoft's (MSFT) Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.B) Warren Buffett. (Microsoft owns and publishes moneyNOW, an MSN Money site.)

But this year's annual billionaires list has turned into something of a slugfest. That's because Prince Alwaleed on Monday said he had "severed ties" with the Forbes list, accusing it of using a "flawed' valuation method that's biased against Middle Eastern investors.

Forbes, owned by wealthy businessman Steve Forbes, shot back on Tuesday with a scathing article that claims the value Prince Alwaleed places on his holdings seems like "an alternate reality."

In the middle of the dust-up might be the actual winner: the Bloomberg Billionaires index, created last year to compete with Forbes' list. That's partly because Alwaleed is throwing his support to the rival rich list, helping it gain attention and perhaps move out from the shadow of Forbes' better-known billionaires ranking.

But a bigger issue might be how the fight exposes the posturing that has apparently fueled the Forbes list in past years. As the magazine itself notes, Alwaleed first came to its attention in 1988, a year after it first published the rich list. The prince engaged in "lobbying, cajoling and threatening" to ensure his status on the list, with the writer even noting that Alwaleed called "in tears" after the 2006 list placed his wealth at $7 billion below what the prince said it was.

Bloomberg's rich list is backed by another billionaire: Michael Bloomberg, who founded financial data and news service Bloomberg LP and whose fortune Forbes pegs at $27 billion.

The Bloomberg list allows users to sort the wealthy by citizenship, gender, age and sources of wealth, and it uses the company's data systems to rejigger the billionaire standings each day. By Bloomberg's measure, Prince Alwaleed was the world's 16th-richest person on Tuesday, with $28 billion of net worth. 

Forbes, however, ranks the prince at a lowly No. 26, pegging his wealth at $20 billion. 

Alwaleed declined to talk with Forbes for its article, which offers a dim view of his personality and investing prowess. "Alwaleed has not proven to be a consistent investor. Over the past 20 years he has backed some serious dogs, such as Eastman Kodak and TWA," the piece notes. 

It also claims the prince is using his Kingdom Holding shares, which are traded on the Saudi Stock Exchange, to push up his net worth. Prior to the annual release of the Forbes rich list, shares in Kingdom jumped sharply, the story says.

Several "former executives close to Alwaleed began telling Forbes a consistent story: The prince was using his public vehicle to inflate his net worth," the piece says.

Alwaleed said in his press release that "Forbes has no intention of improving the accuracy of their valuation of our holdings and we have made the decision to move on."

More on moneyNOW

Mar 5, 2013 4:34PM
Mar 5, 2013 4:12PM
Some people really are at the mercy of their ego.
Mar 5, 2013 4:20PM
Oh that must be so hard...having 20 billion dollars.  BOO HOO!!!
Mar 5, 2013 4:25PM
If I had his money I can't imagine I'd care what anyone said ever again. You'd think he would have better things to do ? I wonder how many wives he has ? I vote that he should be number one on the Forbes Jacka$$es with too much money list.
Mar 5, 2013 5:10PM

Talk about being born with a silver spoon in your mouth....Poor little Prince.


Whine like a cry baby.

Mar 5, 2013 5:29PM

Seriously? Is this guy really trying to say that this is an example of the infidels badly portraying a man of middle eastern decent? Here's a thought, lets utilize our own resources and technology to become independent of their oil and start an organization called FPEC (Food Product Exporting Countries) and retrieve some of the wealth that has been siphoned off to the Gulf Region. Let's see how he ranks after a few years of that.

Mar 5, 2013 4:53PM

I didn't get listed in the right spot either!

Oh darn....

Mar 5, 2013 2:23PM
Alwaleed is using his holdings to "PUSH UP" his net worth.  Sounds like bidding up the share price to inflate the market cap.  Happens all the time in the NYSE and Nasdaq.  That is why the last two years of low vlume has brought the market to a record.  Once the little guys get suckered in, look out below . .. . . . . . .. . . . . .
Mar 5, 2013 5:08PM

Boo Ho, Ho...poor little Prince...leaching off the world with your oil....lucky you.

I bet you have never built anything with your own hands. Never learned anything, just sit back & count your money.


Thanks to the internal combustion engine...eah.

Mar 5, 2013 5:59PM
Silly silly rich people.  I cant believe I just spent two minutes reading this article and another 15 seconds giving a crap to comment on it.
Mar 5, 2013 6:00PM
Apparently it's possible to be a mutibillionaire and still have the mindset of one who frantically tries to "keep up with the Joneses." Who knew!
Mar 5, 2013 5:17PM
One reason never to do business with citibank, is this guy has his teeth in it big time.
Mar 5, 2013 4:32PM
Mar 5, 2013 7:41PM
I think I'm ranked at 95,858,876.....but forbes trying to say I'm at 95,858,878...some BS
Mar 5, 2013 7:26PM
This is right in line with an article I read a number of years back about the psyche of the wealthy.  Based on research by a number of psychologists, it stated that up to a certain point, the motivation for more money was driven to ensure financial security and leisurely comfort, but after that was achieved, the motivation for more and more actually increased because it now became an ego driven obsession to outdo the "Jonses", e.g., if Bill has an 18-room mansion with a 60' inground swimming pool, and suddenly Joe builds a 24-room mansion with a 90' pool down the street, Bill is now unhappy, and will strive to catch up and pass Joe.  That probably explains somewhat why we end up with Madoffs, Enrons, Worldcomms, toxic asset derivatives, etc.  Simply put, these people never have enough, and will step on anybody they can to get more.
Mar 5, 2013 6:46PM
Seriously? I guess he'll be throwing his shoes next!
Mar 5, 2013 8:33PM
Mar 5, 2013 7:33PM

If this guy would pay more attention to business and investing then maybe he would be worth more.  Hey, how much could ten camels be worth anyway?

Mar 5, 2013 8:11PM
You would think a billionaire would have better things to occupy his time with....
Mar 5, 2013 7:35PM
If the prince is so upset, maybe he would feel better if he threw acid in the face of a few schoolgirls or buried a female cousin or two in the backyard.
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