RIYADH - Most of those detained in a sweeping anti-corruption purge of the Saudi elite have struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom, the attorney general said Tuesday, a month after they were locked up in a 5-star hotel.
Dozens of high-profile figures including princes, ministers and tycoons are being held in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, now turned into a luxury prison, in the biggest sweep of the kingdom’s elite in its recent history.
Some 320 people were called in for questioning and 159 people are currently being detained, many of whom have agreed to a “settlement”, or handing over allegedly ill-gotten gains to the Saudi state treasury, attorney general Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said.
“The necessary arrangements are being finalised to conclude such agreements,” Mojeb said in a statement.
The attorney general has previously said he estimates at least $100 billion has been lost in embezzlement or corruption over several decades.
His latest statement comes after Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the former National Guard chief once seen as a contender to the throne, was released last week following a settlement reportedly exceeding $1 billion.
Some analysts saw Prince Miteb’s removal as an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi defence minister, to consolidate his control over the security services.
But Saudi authorities insist the purge was meant solely to target endemic corruption as the kingdom seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
In a recent interview to The New York Times, Prince Mohammed described as “ludicrous” reports equating the crackdown to a power grab, saying that many of those detained at Riyadh’s opulent Ritz-Carlton had already pledged allegiance to him.
Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned assets related to the alleged graft cases would be seized by the state, in what they describe as a top-down approach to battling corruption.
Saudi forces also grounded private jets at airports, possibly to prevent high-profile figures from leaving the country, an aviation source told AFP.
The purge has triggered uncertainty among businesses that could lead to capital flight or derail reforms, experts say, at a time when the kingdom is seeking to attract badly needed investments to offset a protracted oil slump.
Other high-profile targets of the crackdown include billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia. The government has not commented on his current status.
The crackdown has exposed the kingdom’s once-untouchable elite to rare public scrutiny - Saudis on social media have quipped that the Ritz-Carlton was not the worst place to be trapped.