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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Saudi Arabia frees arrested business tycoons 

The businessmen were detained during an anti-corruption campaign that started in November

Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented anti-corruption drive in November, rounding up hundreds of suspects who were detained in the Ritz Carlton. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP
Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented anti-corruption drive in November, rounding up hundreds of suspects who were detained in the Ritz Carlton. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP

Saudi Arabian authorities freed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several of the kingdom’s most prominent men from detention this weekend as they cleared out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail for the country’s elite during a crackdown on corruption.

Prince Alwaleed, the billionaire chairman of Riyadh’s Kingdom Holding Company, was allowed to return home on Saturday, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The terms of his release and any settlement he negotiated weren’t immediately clear. Waleed al-Ibrahim, head of the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Center, and Fawaz Al Hokair, the billionaire founder of one of the country’s largest retailers, were also among those sent home this weekend, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

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The prince’s release came just hours after he told Reuters that he expected to go home soon and to retain ownership of his company. Alwaleed declined to discuss the terms of any financial settlement in that interview, though he expressed support for the kingdom’s rulers and said he was seeking to be fully vindicated. Kingdom Holding and Saudi government officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The departures from the hotel mark the end of the first phase of the anti-corruption campaign that was launched in November. Hundreds of suspects were arrested in the purge, including some of the country’s richest men and top officials. A senior Saudi official said a week ago that the kingdom expects to reap more than US$100 billion from settlements with detainees in exchange for their freedom. Others have been transferred to prison to face trial, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Several other high-profile detainees were also released this weekend after reaching deals, a government official said on condition of anonymity. Khaled al-Tuwaijri, head of the royal court under the late King Abdullah, and Prince Turki bin Nasser -- who was involved in a massive arms transaction that led to corruption probes in the UK and the US -- were also released.

Several of those released from detention appear to be returning to their lives as usual. Among them is former finance minister and minister of state, Ibrahim al-Assaf, who recently led Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Mr Al Ibrahim will return to running the company as usual, one of the people said, and an official told Reuters that his ownership hasn’t changed. Mr Al Ibrahim is the brother-in-law of the late King Fahd and chairman of MBC, which has more than a dozen television channels including the news network Al Arabiya.

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