Saudi Arabia announced today the end of a high-profile anti-corruption probe that saw top princes, businessmen, military officers and officials detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Many European firms had also acknowledged that corruption is a major obstacle in their business activities in MENA country, including Saudi Arabia.
The crackdown launched in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saw hundreds of elite princes, ministers and businessmen held at the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Many were detained for weeks in the upmarket hotel, but most were released after agreeing significant financial settlements that boosted the state coffers by more than $100 billion.
Images emerged showing the detainees sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the five-star hotel.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman instigated a crackdown on princes, ministers and businessmen in Saudia Arabia
The recovered assets from settlements with 87 people include cash, real estate, businesses and securities, according to the Royal Court announcement carried on Saudi state TV.
Around 56 individuals continue to be investigated and that the attorney general refused to settle with them due to other criminal charges they face.
Another eight refused to settle and stand accused of corruption, the state TV said.
Analysts and critics said the crackdown was also a way for the prince to sideline potential rivals and consolidate power as he prepares to inherit the throne from his father, King Salman.
Among those held was billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was detained for more than 80 days at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh before his release.
Also, held were the sons of the late King Abdullah, including Prince Miteb who commanded the National Guard and was once seen as a contender for the throne.
Images in the days after the round-up showed 11 princes and billionaires sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh
There were also current and former ministers rounded up and billionaire businessmen like Bakr Binladin, chairman of the kingdom’s pre-eminent contractor the Saudi Binladin Group that had secured a near-monopoly on mega-expansion projects in Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, throughout the reigns of successive Saudi monarchs.
Guards were positioned outside the detainees’ hotel rooms, where some had access to room service and satellite TV.
Others were reportedly abused, and many were placed under travel bans after their release.
It’s unclear who exactly is still being held or where they are being held. The Ritz-Carlton opened to the public again in mid-February and it’s believed those still detained were moved to prisons or guesthouses.
Altogether, those rounded up by the crown prince symbolised the elite structure encircling the ruling Al Saud family and its vast patronage networks.
The government never officially disclosed the names of those ensnared in the campaign, but state-linked media distributed lists with names of some of those detained.
Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh where detainees in the crackdown were held, some for 80 days, until they reached financial settlements the the ruling family
The government also did not disclose details on the allegations the detainees faced or how they were being prosecuted, leading to concerns about transparency and due process.
International investors were initially spooked by the lack of transparency and clarity.
The corruption investigation concluded yesterday with the approval of King Salman, according to a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The statement said: ‘The public prosecutor has refused to settle the cases of 56 individuals due to already existing criminal charges against them.
‘An additional eight people have seen their cases referred to the public prosecutor after they refused to reach settlements.
‘Settlements were reached with 87 individuals after their confession to the charges against them,’ SPA said.
Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October
Two months before the anti-corruption campaign was launched, the crown prince had begun his first sweep of arrests targeting dozens of prominent Saudi figures, including moderate clerics, for not publicly supporting or for criticising his domestic and foreign policies.
Then, in May of last year, more than a dozen women’s rights activists and their supporters were arrested just before the kingdom lifted its ban on women driving.
Some have reportedly been water-boarded, lashed, sexually assaulted and electrocuted.
In October, the crown prince was at the centre of a global outcry over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Before his killing, Khashoggi had written critically of the crown prince’s crackdown on critics in columns for The Washington Post.
The U.S. Senate has blamed the killing on the crown prince. The kingdom, however, denies he had any role.