Saudi Billionaire, Media Tycoon Freed as Ritz Empties

Jan 31, 2018, 04:22
Saudi Billionaire, Media Tycoon Freed as Ritz Empties

Saudi Arabia's government has arranged to seize more than $100 billion through financial settlements with businessmen and officials detained in its crackdown on corruption, the attorney general said on Tuesday.

The huge sum - 400 billion Saudi rials ($106.67-bn) - will be a financial boost for the government, which has seen its finances strained in recent years by low oil prices. The kingdom's budget deficit in 2017 was estimated at $61 billion, showing a steady decline from $79 billion in 2016 and $98 billion in 2015.

Critics also said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was using the popular anti-corruption drive to consolidate his grip on the country.

The prince, 62, had been the most well-known and prominent detainee held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, since November 4, when his much younger cousin, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the surprise raids against prominent princes, businessmen, ministers and military officers.

The Attorney General, as a member of the Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee, said in a statement that the subpoenaed individuals were called to testify or provide evidence.

Some cases are expected to go to trial, authorities have said previously.

Most detainees have since been released after agreeing to hand over substantial financial assets to the government.

One of the highest profile suspects, billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal, was released on Saturday. Prince Alwaleed was among at least 11 princes detained in the probe, in addition to dozens of businessmen, officials and military officers. He is ranked as the world's 64th richest man, and was once dubbed the 'Arabian Warren Buffett'.

His release came hours after he told Reuters in an interview at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing and be freed within days.

He showed off the comforts of his suite's gold-accented private office, a dining room and a kitchen which was fully stocked with his preferred vegetarian meals.

His release was merely a PR exercise to counter media reports which had caused embarrassment for the Gulf state last week.

The hotel has 492 guest rooms and suites and 21 hectares of landscaped gardens, according to its website. It has said it will reopen to the public in mid-February, with a nightly rate for its cheapest room of 2,439 riyals ($650).

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