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Saudi Arabia releases hotel detainees

Those detained are thought to have been asked for payments in return for their freedom
The Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh is reported to have morphed into a makeshift prison after the kingdom's unprecedented crackdown (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has released 23 of the 200-or-so powerful individuals detained since November on corruption charges after they reached deals with the government, Okaz newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The report did not name those involved in what appeared to be the first large-scale release since the royals, business people and government officials were detained in a crackdown spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

The suspects have been held at Riyadh’s luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel since early November and told to hand over assets and cash in exchange for their freedom.

Okaz said more detainees would be released in the coming days and trial proceedings would begin soon for those who continue to deny the charges against them.

Saudi authorities see the settlements not as blackmail but as an obligation to reimburse money taken illegally from the world’s top oil producer over several decades.

Video posted on social media showed a smiling Saoud al-Daweesh, the former chief executive of Saudi Telecom, telling well-wishers he had been treated decently.

“Private Affairs (a unit of the royal court) brought us a full lamb dish day and night. They treated us well and did a good job,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that among those who have been released in the past week were Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister and board member of Saudi Aramco, former assistant minister of finance Mohammed bin Homoud Al Mazyed, Prince Turki bin Khalid, and businessman Mohy Saleh Kamel.

The paper also reported on Monday that the Saudi authorities were asking billionaire Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, who was detained in the crackdown, for $6bn in return for his release.

The prince, who has been accused of extortion, bribery and money laundering, reportedly refused to give any such payment as doing so would be seen as an admission of guilt.

“He wants a proper investigation," said a source close to the prince, speaking to the Wall Street Journal.

"It is expected that al-Waleed will give [MbS] a hard time."

Those arrested are accused of having fleeced Saudi Arabia of billions of dollars, hence why payments are thought to be being asked for by the Saudi authorities

In November, Prince Mutaib Bin Abdullah - son of the late King Abdullah - was released from detention after reportedly paying $1bn. 

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