The luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh has been hosting some of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful and richest elites after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had them arrested in surprise raids on November 4.
The raids were unprecedented and billed as a “drive against corruption” in the kingdom, and against the “abuse of power and privilege”. Those arrested included around 11 princes along with several top Saudi businessmen.
Arrested Lodged In Secrecy In The Ritz
Ever since the arrested have been lodged in Ritz, entering and leaving its compound cannot be done without official permission.
A press crew was recently given exclusive access but were told to avoid filming faces, or record any conversations. These journalists are among the few who have been allowed to see brief glimpses of the life of those arrested, euphemistically called “special guests”.
When asked for the reason for bringing them to the Ritz, the officials said that they were afraid that some might “have escaped so we had to keep them inside”.
An official said to be working with the “Special Committee” said that those arrested had not believed that it was happening and thought that “it was just a show which wouldn’t last long.” He added that they were “angry.”
Arrests Made Based On Evidence Gathered Over Two Years
There have been no official announcements as to the full list of those arrested but one of those arrested was the well-known billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal who has shares in companies like Twitter and Apple. It also includes the crown prince’s cousin Miteb bin Abdullah, who was earlier heading the exclusive National Guard.
An official from the Public Prosecutor’s Office highlighted that everything was document in the country so, “everyone here has a file.”
Under instructions from the Crown Prince, in the past two years, a team has been gathering alleged evidence in secrecy. Subsequently, a new anti-corruption committee was created by a royal decree, post which the money hunters took action.
A judicial official has stated that currently it was only “a pre-investigation”, under which people “who took the money” are asked “to give it back”. The legality of the arrests has been defended under Saudi law provisions and the independence of the office of the Public Prosecutor.
An anti-corruption official describes it as ” a friendly process,” where everyone has been told “we’ll show you the evidence and we’ll solve the problem”.
Life Inside “the Gilded Prison”
Currently apart from security guards and medical teams, over 500 people are registered as being guests of the Ritz-Carlton, staying on the Kingdom’s charge.
The 201 detainees stay in their hotel rooms, seeking to avoid others and are focused on finding a way to leave.
An official reveals that currently Ritz-Carlton’s guests includes experts from a wide array of institutions including government ministries, justice, stock market, the treasury, bankers , money-laundering specialists.
These executives are typically work in shifts, 24 hours a day all through the week to process the cases. While some stay in the hotel others work from their offices.
Seven Released After Investigation
A few days ago, seven of those arrested walked free. According to internal sources from the hotel, they were able to clarify their file contents and establish their innocence.
Official sources have indicated that 4% of those accused are planning to take their cases to court. But a majority (95%) are said to be ready to arrive at a deal. The deals may involve handing over large amounts cash or assets to the Saudi government for their freedom.
According to local sources nearly 1,900 bank accounts were frozen, including those belonging to family members of the suspects. These cash and assets reportedly total to 800 billion dollars.
The official from the Special Committee says that even if 200 billion dollars of cash or assets is gotten back, “that would be good”.
Rumours Of Medical Crisis And Mistreatment
Some rumours of mistreatment of the suspects and cases of medical crises have come up.
A human rights officials explained it as “some guests are old, and some suffer from diabetes, heart problems” or other such conditions. He explained that a health centre was manned by doctors and nurses day and night, rooms are regularly checked, and any special medicines needed are got from homes.
Public Support The “Anti-Corruption “Measure
Officials claim “99% of Saudis are happy” with the raids, as it tackles the issue of “rampant corruption”. While some believe that the exercise will bring back to the country what was lost, others talk of how government offices are now functioning better with no one asking for bribes.