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The Price Of Freedom: MbS’s Corruption Crackdown Nets $100 Billion For Saudi State

After nearly three months of “enhanced interrogations” and at least one reported death, Mohammad bin Salman’s hired mercenaries have nearly finished the job. Bloomberg reported Monday that half of the roughly 180 royals being held at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton have agreed to pay a financial settlement in exchange for their freedom.

The total amount raised is $100 billion in cash, stock, real estate and other assets – enough to cover the state’s 2017 budget deficit, and then some.

Talks with suspects are expected to end by the end of the month and authorities will likely recover more than $100 billion in settlements, a senior official said, asking not to be identified because the details are private. Those who don’t reach deals will be referred to prosecutors, the official said.

Authorities have already agreed to drop charges against about 90 suspects who were released, Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a separate interview at the Ritz-Carlton late on Sunday. About 95 people were still at the hotel, including five weighing settlement proposals, with the others reviewing evidence presented against them, he said.

“The royal order was clear,” Al Mojeb said, as Arabic music streamed through loudspeakers in the hotel lobby. “Those who express remorse and agree to settle will have any criminal proceedings against them dropped.”

That group reportedly includes Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men. Bin Talal was reportedly strung upside down and beaten by mercenaries during his interrogation. He eventually relented and agreed to a settlement. Back in November, we reported that Miteb al Abdullah, a prince accused of embezzlement and corruption, settled for $1 billion.

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Major General Ali Alqahtani was reportedly beaten to death by mercenaries after refusing the state’s offer of a settlement. Meanwhile, at least one royal, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, was killed during a gun battle with Saudi state security after refusing to surrender.

Several other high-ranking officials died in suspicious helicopter crashes around the time the purge was launched on Nov. 4.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal was among those detained, as was former Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf and Adel Al Fakeih, who was removed as minister of economy and planning on the eve of the arrests.

The princes were detained in the 495-room hotel in Riyadh. Shortly after the crackdown began, images began circulating of royals sleeping on what appeared to be dirty mattresses in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton.

While 95 princes remain at the hotel, Bloomberg reported that only a handful are expected to reach a settlement. The rest will, presumably, serve lengthy prison sentences.

Riyadh

Saudi officials have defended the crackdown, while foreign observers have complained about a lack of transparency and rumors of widespread human rights abuses.

The probe was conducted in a “pretty nontransparent way,” according to Moritz Kraemer, global chief rating officer at S&P Global Ratings, who appeared on Bloomberg TV Monday. The probe “could be a step in the right direction but it could also be a step towards more arbitrary ruling,” he said.

About 350 people have been summoned during the probe, but many came as witnesses or to provide information, with some spending only a few hours or less at the Ritz, the official said.

With the purge nearly over, the remaining guests will presumably soon be moved to their, uh, long-term accommodations, as the hotel has revealed that it will be taking bookings again as of Feb. 14.

According to Bloomberg, Al Mojeb denied the suspects’ rights were violated. All had access to legal council and some did retain lawyers, though many chose to settle voluntarily without outside representation, he said. Those released faced no restrictions on their movement, he said.