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Saudi elites released after 'corruption settlements'

The Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh is holding about 200 members of the Saudi elite

Riyadh, Jan 27 (UITV/IANS) - Prominent businessmen in Saudi Arabia, detained in November in an anti-corruption purge, have been released after reaching financial settlements with the Kingdom authorities, a media report said.

Among those set free on Friday were Waleed al-Ibrahim, the head of regional television network MBC and Khalid al-Tuwaijiri, a former chief of the Royal Court, the BBC reported on Saturday.

The men, according to reports, paid "substantial financial settlements" -- though the amounts have not been made public.

Al-Ibrahim's deal may have included his controlling share in MBC -- the largest media company in the Middle East, reports said.

More than 200 princes, politicians and wealthy businessmen were detained in a crackdown on "systematic corruption" launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November. He has been accused of using the investigation to remove opponents and consolidate his power, the BBC reported.

Those detained were accused of bribery, money laundering as well as extorting officials.

Since then, they have been held in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, which is due to reopen on February 14. The settlements were likely "costly", the BBC report said.

Two and a half months after the start of the crackdown, the campaign appears to be moving to a new phase. Most of the roughly 350 men detained have been released after either being cleared or surrendering significant assets to the government.

And Crown Prince Mohammed is turning the screws on those who remain, threatening to move them to an actual prison and put them on trial, Saudi officials said.

He has said that the crackdown could return $100 billion in ill-gotten gains to the treasury while sending a firm message that the old, corrupt ways of doing business are over.

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was released at the end of November, reportedly paid over $1 billion.

In the aftermath of the purge, Saudi Arabia's Attorney General said at least $100 billion had been misused through systemic corruption and embezzlement going back decades.

The detentions and the expensive settlements were being characterized by the state as an attempt to recover those funds. Many more of those detained remain in the Ritz Carlton under guard. They are expected to be sent to prison to await trial.