High-profile figures released in Saudi corruption investigation; $107 billion in funds recovered

Prince Al-Waleed was reportedly released after reaching a settlement approved by the state prosecutor.
Sunday 04/02/2018
A view of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, on January 30.  (Reuters)
Posh prison. A view of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, on January 30. (Reuters)

LONDON - As Saudi authorities close their makeshift luxury detention centre at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the official in charge said the kingdom’s high-level anti-corruption investigation recovered $107 billion.

Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said 381 individuals were subpoenaed and 56 were still in custody. He said the funds recovered were from various types of assets, including real estate, commercial entities, securities and cash.

The release of some of the investigation’s most high-profile detainees, including Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al Saud — one of the world’s richest men — preceded the closing of the hotel detention facility.

Prince Al-Waleed, 62, was released on January 27, shortly after conducting an interview with Reuters in which he said he would retain complete control of his firm, Kingdom Holding.

During the interview, Prince Al-Waleed labelled his detention since November as a misunderstanding and that he was supportive of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz’s reform initiatives. “There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” Prince Al-Waleed said.

“We have now a new leadership in Saudi Arabia and they just want to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. And I said: ‘Fine, that’s fine with me, no problem at all. Just go ahead.’”

A senior Saudi official told Reuters that Prince Al-Waleed was released after reaching a settlement approved by the state prosecutor and confirmed that the prince would remain head of Kingdom Holding.

Saudi authorities last November began a kingdom-wide anti-corruption campaign. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal decree forming an anti-corruption task force to “investigate, issue arrest war­rants, travel bans and freeze accounts and portfolios,” a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.

More than 200 individuals, including members of the royal family, former ministers and high-profile businessmen, were arrested in the culmination of a 3-year investigation.

Saudi authorities negotiated settlements with some detainees and said that those held on corruption charges would be required to return misappropriated funds. Some suspects would have to turn over as much as 70% of their wealth, the Financial Times reported.

Most of those arrested agreed to settle to avoid further prosecution. The settlements will be channelled into economic development projects, Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan said. He said in an interview with Al Arabiya TV that the settlements would fund “royal decrees to support citizens” that are expected to cost the kingdom more than $13 billion.

Also released from detention were the former head of the Saudi meteorology and environmental protection agency, Prince Turki bin Nasser, former chief of the Royal Court during the reign of the late King Abdullah, Khalid al-Tuwaijri, and owner of regional television network MBC Waleed al-Ibrahim.

Ibrahim will remain head of MBC and retain his 40% stake in the company, said a senior MBC executive, who added that Ibrahim had been cleared of all charges.

The same report quoted an unnamed Saudi official saying that Ibrahim had reached a financial settlement with authorities during the investigation.