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Saudi Prince Alwaleed pledges to give away his entire $32 bn fortune

Magnate pledges to give money to charities in the fashion of Bill and Melinda Gates
Saudi Arabia's billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal speaks to reporters during a press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal on Wednesday pledged his entire $32-bn fortune to charitable projects over the coming years.

The prince said in a statement that the "philanthropic pledge 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 donation "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, adding that the pledge would still be used after his death "for humanitarian projects and initiatives".

The magnate belongs to the Saudi royal family and is a nephew of King Abdullah, who died on 23 January.

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

At a press conference, he said his pledge was modelled on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States.

"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.

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

He is constructing a tower in the Red Sea city of Jeddah which is to rise more than one kilometre (almost 3,300 feet) to be the world's tallest building.

Earlier this year, Alwaleed 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 for the channel is still 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 $400 million.

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

Alwaleed told reporters he has already donated a total of $3.5 bn 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 two 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, 60, 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."

The announcement provoked praise on social media: