DUBAI—Billionaire Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal has returned as the kingdom’s public face for global investors, emerging a year after his detention to help the royal family survive the crisis over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.
Prince al-Waleed was the best known internationally of the Saudi businessmen, government officials and royals detained last year in what Saudi authorities called a corruption crackdown. Prince al-Waleed wasn’t publicly charged, but his three-month imprisonment raised doubts about his quasi-diplomatic role as Saudi Arabia’s unofficial business ambassador.
In the months after Prince al-Waleed was released following an undisclosed settlement with the government he kept a low profile. Now, he is providing the kingdom with a friendly face for Western investors and foreign officials after executives began to publicly shun Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, over a Saudi government hit squad’s killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
Prince Mohammed’s office called Prince al-Waleed’s office in October and asked him to attend a Saudi business conference that international executives had largely boycotted, according to people close to both men. The next day, the billionaire stood by the embattled ruler—at the same Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel where Prince al-Waleed had been detained. He accompanied Prince Mohammed on a handshake tour through the conference, taking selfies in a display meant to reassure Western investors, these people said.
Another sign of Prince al-Waleed’s return to the royal court’s graces is his fresh spree of deals with international investors. Among them, he completed $300 million in French business investment in Saudi Arabia last week, said people familiar with those deals, and invested another $500 million in Western tech firms. He also is in talks with Leonard Blavatnik, owner of Warner Music Group, and other executives to invest in his Riyadh-based entertainment company, Rotana Media Group, the people familiar with the deals say.
Spokespeople for Warner Music and Mr. Blavatnik’s holding company Access Industries didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Prince al-Waleed, 63 years old, was a familiar international face before Prince Mohammed and his father, King Salman, rose to power in 2015. Prince al-Waleed met with heads of state, signed what he called strategic business deals for Saudi Arabia, appeared on U.S. cable news stations and took large positions in American companies, including Twitter Inc. and Citibank.
Prince Mohammed had tried to sideline Saudi deal makers like Prince al-Waleed and replace them with companies and executives affiliated with the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund that the ruler is using to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy.
In the months after his January release from detention, Prince al-Waleed was banned from traveling internationally without Prince Mohammed’s approval, people who know him say. When the billionaire was freed, the crown prince held a veto right over investments at his firm, Kingdom Holding Co., The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Prince al-Waleed has been conducting his recent business from Saudi Arabia.
Many executives have still welcomed Prince al-Waleed’s comeback, with one executive calling him indispensable. “Without him, we would have put talks on hold,” another person involved in recent business discussions said of Prince al-Waleed.
Some executives who know Prince al-Waleed are skeptical of his charm offensive, unsure if he is truly speaking freely. One Western investor said Prince al-Waleed’s entreaties to do business in Saudi Arabia would only work if there were no more scandals.
“It can’t happen again,” he said.
People who know Prince al-Waleed say he has mixed feelings about his new role. Mr. Khashoggi was a friend who once worked for one of the prince’s television projects. “What took place at the Saudi consulate was clearly horrific…despicable, unspeakable, and tragic,” Prince al-Waleed told Fox News.
Prince al-Waleed has repeated government denials that Prince Mohammed was involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s death. “I believe the Saudi Crown Prince will be 100% cleared,” he told the news channel.
People who know Prince al-Waleed say he chose to support Prince Mohammed and prop up the royal family at a time of crisis. They say he supports changes that Prince Mohammed has undertaken, such as allowing women to drive and opening up the economy to foreign investment.
Meanwhile, Prince al-Waleed has looked to rebuild strained international business relationships, especially in the U.S. and France.
Two weeks ago, Five Capital—CDC’s joint fund with Prince al-Waleed’s Kingdom Holding—closed two longstanding deals, according to people familiar with the matter. The fund, along with French startup Webedia, have agreed to buy Saudi Arabia’s main video and music streaming platform, Uturn, said Herve Cuviliez, chief executive of Webedia unit Diwanee.
Diwanee will be merged with Uturn in a transaction worth about $100 million when its shares are transferred to the new owners in coming days, he said. “It was very important to have Prince Al-Waleed as a partner,” Mr. Cuviliez. “He has lots of experience investing in technology companies and a huge reach in Saudi Arabia.”
Five Capital has also resumed talks with the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund to support Saudi companies abroad, the people said.
A spokesman for Kingdom Holding said Prince al-Waleed wasn’t available for comment. Officials at Uturn and the Saudi royal court didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Prince al-Waleed has said he retains control over his assets, unlike others who were detained at the Ritz-Carlton, including his 95% stake in Kingdom Holding.
Over the summer, Kingdom and Rotana resumed investment in technology firms, spending a combined $500 million in the parent company of social-media platform Snapchat and Paris-based music-streaming website Deezer.
—David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul contributed to this article.