Riyadh’s Ritz ‘luxury prison’ reopens after graft crackdown

Riyadh’s Ritz ‘luxury prison’ reopens after graft crackdown

RIYADH – Agence France-Presse
Riyadh’s Ritz ‘luxury prison’ reopens after graft crackdown

Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton reopened for business Feb. 11, three months after it became a holding place for princes and ministers detained in the biggest anti-graft purge of the kingdom’s elite in its modern history.

The luxury hotel had been closed for business since the unprecedented probe was launched on Nov. 4, 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has tightened his grip on power since his shock appointment as heir to the throne last June.

A hotel receptionist reached by phone confirmed to AFP that the hotel was open to the public. Another source inside the hotel said the property had no detainees.

Many of the high-profile suspects, including billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal -- dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia -- have been released in recent weeks in exchange for what officials have dubbed financial settlements.

Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said in late January that after completing inquiries into 381 high-profile corruption suspects, he would keep 56 in custody and free the rest. It was unclear if the remaining suspects had been moved to another facility.

Total settlements with the suspects had topped $107 billion in various forms of assets handed over that included property, securities and cash, he said.

Another high-profile detainee, former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, was released following a “settlement” with the authorities that reportedly exceeded $1 billion.

Prince Mohammed, the 32-year-old son of the king, has spearheaded the crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family over the past three months.

Some critics have labelled Prince Mohammed’s campaign a shakedown and power grab, but authorities insist the purge targeted endemic corruption as the country prepares for a post-oil era.

In an interview with The New York Times in November, Prince Mohammed described as “ludicrous” reports equating the crackdown to a power grab, saying that many of those detained at the opulent Ritz-Carlton had already pledged allegiance to him.

The five-star hotel, originally built to house guests of the royal family, is a far cry from a gritty prison cell -- it boasts majestic suites and pastel-hued hallways awash with bronze statues and glittering chandeliers.

It prompted light-hearted banter on social media, with jocular speculation on who would be added to the “Ritz guest list,” and some quipping “take us with you” to be incarcerated in the lavish hotel.

The hotel’s executive chef has created a new menu this week for its restaurants, with a “grand buffet” planned next weekend around its large indoor swimming pool, the local Arab News daily reported.