Saudis de­tained in ho­tel set­tle graft cases, walk free

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - KA­REEM FAHIM AND WIL­LIAM BRANIGIN

Saudi Ara­bia an­nounced Tues­day that it has re­leased most of the busi­ness­men, of­fi­cials and princes who were be­ing held in a lux­ury ho­tel in Riyadh in con­nec­tion with a broad crack­down on cor­rup­tion.

They were re­leased af­ter reach­ing fi­nan­cial set­tle­ments to­tal­ing nearly $107 bil­lion.

In a state­ment, Saudi At­tor­ney Gen­eral Saud al-Mo­jeb said 56 peo­ple re­main in cus­tody in the crack­down that be­gan Nov. 4 and net­ted a to­tal of 381 peo­ple. In those cases, the state­ment said, “the At­tor­ney Gen­eral has re­fused to set­tle with them due to other pend­ing crim­i­nal cases, in or­der to con­tinue the in­ves­ti­ga­tions process, and in ac­cor­dance with the rel­e­vant laws and reg­u­la­tions.”

The anti-cor­rup­tion drive was spear­headed by Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, 32, and led to the ar­rest of at least 11 other princes, in­clud­ing bil­lion­aire ty­coon Al­waleed bin Talal, a cousin 30 years his senior. Crit­ics said the crown prince was us­ing the cam­paign to con­sol­i­date power by pun­ish­ing po­ten­tial ri­vals and wrest­ing con­trol over key busi­nesses.

Al­waleed was among the de­tainees who were re­leased over the week­end af­ter agree­ing to un­spec­i­fied fi­nan­cial set­tle­ments. The prince, chair­man of global in­vestor King­dom Hold­ing, was held for more than two months with other prom­i­nent of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men at the Ritz-Carl­ton Ho­tel in Riyadh.

The fate of the 56 who re­main in cus­tody was not im­me­di­ately clear. There are no more de­tainees at the Ritz-Carl­ton, the Reuters news agency re­ported, adding that some of those ar­rested are be­lieved to have been moved to pri­son cells af­ter re­fus­ing to ad­mit wrong­do­ing and agree to fi­nan­cial set­tle­ments.

Hours be­fore he was re­leased Satur­day, Al­waleed told Reuters in his ho­tel suite that he was treated well in cus­tody and that his case re­sulted from a mis­un­der­stand­ing. “I can only say I’m sup­port­ing the king and crown prince in all the ef­forts they’re do­ing to re­ally have a new Saudi Ara­bia,” he said.

In his state­ment, al-Mo­jeb said au­thor­i­ties have fin­ished re­view­ing the cases of those ac­cused of cor­rup­tion and that ne­go­ti­a­tions and set­tle­ments have been con­cluded. Ac­cord­ingly, he said, the Pub­lic Prose­cu­tion Of­fice de­cided to re­lease those against whom there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence and those who reached set­tle­ments af­ter they “ad­mit­ted to the cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against them.”

It said the set­tle­ments were es­ti­mated to to­tal more than $106.6 bil­lion and con­sisted of “var­i­ous types of as­sets,” in­clud­ing real es­tate, com­mer­cial en­ti­ties, se­cu­ri­ties and cash.

The ar­rests of prom­i­nent Saudis, in­clud­ing princes, ty­coons and for­mer Cab­i­net mem­bers, re­flected the power strug­gles, so­ci­etal shifts and sys­temic changes tak­ing place in the king­dom un­der the lead­er­ship of Mo­hammed, the young crown prince. The cam­paign was billed as part of a mod­ern­iza­tion ef­fort aimed at root­ing out deeply en­trenched graft, send­ing a mes­sage that no one was im­mune from prose­cu­tion and as­sur­ing for­eign in­vestors that cor­rup­tion would no longer be tol­er­ated.

But mys­tery shrouded the pre­cise na­ture of the ac­cu­sa­tions and even the iden­ti­ties of many of the de­tainees. And the gov­ern­ment’s move to reach fi­nan­cial set­tle­ments rather than bring crim­i­nal charges fed sus­pi­cions that the cam­paign amounted to more of a shake­down than an at­tempt to over­haul Saudi so­ci­ety.

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