Saudi Arabia's top investment company looks to its home market

Posted January 21, 2019 1:25 p.m. EST

— The company founded by Saudi Arabia's most prominent global investor plans to spend more of its money at home.

Kingdom Holding CEO Talal Ibrahim Al Maiman said Monday the firm plans to spend $1 billion in Saudi Arabia over the next six months as the country attempts to repair its reputation with foreign investors after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"We believe there are better opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the region today," Al Maiman told CNN Business' Emerging Markets Editor John Defterios. "Much better multiples and greater potential."

Kingdom Holding was founded by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a leading investor who purchased stakes in Citigroup (C), Twitter (TWTR), Lyft and Chinese e-commerce firm (JD). Alwaleed was arrested in 2017 as part of a Saudi crackdown on alleged corruption and held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh for almost three months.

Alwaleed remains the chairman of Kingdom Holding.

Al Maiman, who was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said he hopes other executives will follow his lead and invest in Saudi Arabia. He denied that Kingdom Holding is spending more in Saudi Arabia because of political pressure.

Saudi Arabia is trying to recover from a global backlash following the killing of Khashoggi. Top foreign executives pulled out of the country's flagship investment conference after the murder, and businesses have been hesitant to deepen their exposure to the kingdom ever since.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has come under intense scrutiny over the Khashoggi murder, is still pushing his Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the Saudi economy and end its dependence on oil. Al Maiman described the killing as "unfortunate" but said "we should go forward."

"I hope for [investors] to size things as they are," he said. "We are putting our money in Saudi Arabia. And therefore, I hope this is an invitation to everyone to reconsider and come to Saudi Arabia."

Kingdom Holding has tried to get back on track after the release of Alwaleed in August. It has invested in French music streaming service Deezer and grown its position in Uber's rival in the Middle East, Careem.

But it's lost about a quarter of its market value, and questions remain about Alwaleed's autonomy as the crown prince consolidates control.

Al Maiman said that Kingdom Holding remains a global company. In addition to investing in Saudi Arabia, he said it's also looking at increasing its stakes in Careem, Deezer and Lyft.