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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Saudi VIP detainees are ready to cut a deal — BBC

Offers to return allegedly ill-gotten wealth follow weeks of confinement in the luxury of the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh

The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh where many high-profile suspects detained in an anti-corruption sweep have been held since early November 2017. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP
The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh where many high-profile suspects detained in an anti-corruption sweep have been held since early November 2017. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP

As a detention centre, they surely do not come more opulent than the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Within its gilded walls, 200 VIPs have been held since November 4, accused of corruption, money-laundering, bribery, extortion and abuse of their position. They are said to include 11 princes - two of them nephews of the monarch, King Salman.

Yet notwithstanding the glittering chandeliers, the in-house gym, swimming pools, bowling alley, the restaurants and the ornamental fountains, the hotel is their cage, albeit a most lavishly-appointed one. And according to the BBC, which was granted rare access to the hotel, 95 per cent of the detainees are willing to make a deal.

The BBC reports that when they were brought to the hotel three weeks ago, the VIPs were angry, but they assumed it was a stunt for show and that they would not have to stay there long. But when they realised they were not being allowed to leave - and told the reasons why - they became furious.

"Anyone accused of being a thief would be upset," a source told the BBC.

But with the passing days they have been confronted with what is apparently "substantial" evidence to back up the allegations of financial wrong-doing. And the BBC reports that most of the high-ranking detainees are proposing to pay back a "substantial" proportion of their allegedly ill-gotten gains in exchange for their freedom.

Those currently residing at the Ritz-Carlton include the billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men.

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Read more:

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The New York Times reported that one business tycoon was detained after being summoned back from abroad for a meeting. A billionaire was told to turn himself in or he would be picked up like a common criminal. An official was called in to discuss an attack that apparently never happened.

A special Supreme Committee for Combating Corruption is investigating all charges against the detained officials, businessmen and royal family members. Their personal bank accounts have been frozen.

The Saudi attorney general, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, revealed that the arrests are the culmination of three years' work by the committee. Of the 208 originally arrested, seven have been discharged because there was a lack of evidence against them.

Despite intense speculation, the identities of those still in custody are not being revealed so that they "enjoy the full legal rights granted to them by the kingdom", said Sheikh Saud. The two-minute BBC report does not show any detainees, only shadowy, unidentifiable figures behind frosted glass.