Prince Walid bin Talal's hotel investment group, Kingdom Hotels International, and Colony Capital have agreed to combine Fairmont with the Raffles hotel group to create an international luxury chain with 120 hotels in 24 countries.

With interests in Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, George V Hotel and Movenpick Hotels & Resorts, the new deal will put the prince in competition with luxury brands launched recently by Starwood Capital Group and Hilton Hotels Corp.

Walid has been ranked by Forbes as the world's fifth richest person. His estimated fortune of $23.7 billion makes him the wealthiest Muslim businessman.

A nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, the 50-year-old prince has amassed an enormous fortune from investing in shares, property and recently the Arab music and entertainment industry, all under the giant Kingdom Holding Company.

Need for reform

While he has, for a long time, stayed outside of the core of political power in Saudi Arabia, the prince has recently voiced critical statements of Saudi traditionalism and the need for political and economic reforms as well as boosting women's rights.

He has hired the first female airline pilot in Saudi Arabia.

Kingdom Tower, a landmark of
Riyadh, is owned by Alwaleed

Walid was born in Riyadh to Prince Talal, son of Abdulaziz al-Saud, Saudi Arabia's founder and Princess Mona el-Solh, daughter of Riad el-Solh, the first Lebanese prime minister and leader of its independence.

He completed his studies in the US where he received a master's degree in Social Science from Syracuse University in 1985.

His activities as an investor came to prominence when he bought a large stake in Citigroup when it was in rocky waters. He later acquired substantial interests in AOL, Apple Computer Inc, Worldcom, Motorola Inc, News Corporation Inc and others.

In January last year, Alwaleed bought the Savoy Hotel in London for some £250 million.

Charitable acts

The prince is also involved in charitable activities across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, with estimated donations of $100 million annually. At home, he also receives on a regular basis needy Saudis under a state-of-the-art tent.

Last year, Walid donated a combined $40 million to Georgetown University and Harvard University for the expansion of their Islamic studies programmes.

But his offer in 2001 of a $10 million donation to the City of New York for relief efforts after the 11 September 2001 attacks was turned down.

Rudolph Giuliani, New York's former mayor, said then the prince's comments that Washington "must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack" could be construed as a justification of the attacks, perpetrated by mainly Saudi nationals.