Citigroup's Corbat Sees Saudi Progress Despite Alwaleed's Arrest

Citigroup Inc. CEO Michael Corbat sits down with Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker at The Year Ahead Summit in New York.

Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said he’s encouraged by Saudi Arabia’s increasing openness, despite the lack of transparency around the arrest of the bank’s longstanding promoter in the nation.

“We look at some of the progressive things that are happening there -- we’re encouraged by it,” Corbat said in an interview with Erik Schatzker Wednesday at the Bloomberg Year Ahead summit in New York. “I think it’s a societal transformation.”

Citigroup, which lost its Saudi investment banking license by selling its stake in Samba Financial Group in 2004, got a new license in April. Corbat said the nation was welcoming of the bank’s return, including the fact that the unit would be led by a woman.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the 62-year-old Saudi billionaire, was detained by authorities on Saturday without disclosure of the allegations. Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Co. has held Citigroup shares since 1991, and Corbat called him a “very consistent, loyal supporter” of the firm. Alwaleed is no longer among the bank’s biggest shareholders, though he has one of the largest stakes among individuals, Corbat said.

The CEO said he didn’t have any insight into Alwaleed’s situation.

“We’ve got a number of people being held under this broad title of corruption, and we actually don’t know what the specified charges or accusations are below that,” he said.

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