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Media: Saudi Arabia Releases Top Financier, Close to 90 Others Held in Graft Probe


Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal sits for an interview with Reuters in the office of the suite during his detention, at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2018.

Arab media, quoting family members, is reporting that top Saudi financier Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal was released by the government Saturday, after being held for several months. Terms of any eventual financial settlement between the prince and the Saudi government were not immediately known.

Alwaleed, whose Kingdom Holdings owns shares in a number of large U.S. corporations, including Twitter and Citigroup, was held along with others in Riyadh's luxurious Ritz Carlton Hotel. Arab media reported that close to 90 other top Saudi businessmen and royal family members were also released, following financial settlements with the government.

The men had been detained since early November after the government launched a probe into alleged financial improprieties or corruption. Unconfirmed reports in Arab media suggest that the Saudi treasury may have raised up to several hundred million dollars from financial settlements with the prominent figures it had detained.

Alwaleed, the most prominent of those detained, told Reuters in an interview shortly before he was released that he was innocent of any financial improprieties and that discussions with the government were taking place amicably.

"There are no charges. There are just some discussions with the government. But, rest assured, that this is a clean operation that we have and we are just in discussion with the government on various matters and that I cannot divulge right now because we are in discussion with them, but rest assured that we're at the end of the story," Alwaleed said.

A view of part of the suite where Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal during his detention, at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2018.
A view of part of the suite where Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal during his detention, at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2018.

A top Saudi official, however, told Reuters that while he would "not negate or confirm" what the prince says, "for sure there is no settlement unless there are violations and they are not concluded without the accused admitting it in writing and promising not to repeat it...." The official added that he had no doubt that Alwaleed would continue to head his Kingdom Holding Co.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that he doesn't think the main motive behind the arrest of Alwaleed and other businessmen or figures from the royal family was financial. Khashan argues that many of the people detained did "not endorse" Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman when he ascended to his position last June, and the latter wanted to impress on them that he will soon be in charge of the Saudi kingdom.

"The more important dimension is political and the aim of Mohammed Bin Salman is to consolidate his powers ahead of replacing his father, which might happen any time soon. Remember, his father is in very frail health," he said.

Khashan added that he does not think that the money raised from the corruption probe "will solve any of the Kingdom's deep-seated financial problems," and argued that one of the major drains on Riyadh's finances is the ongoing war in Yemen.

Crown Prince Mohammed has taken a number of initiatives to restructure the Saudi economy, including the privatization of Aramco, the country's iconic national oil corporation. He has also cut off various financial subsidies to members of the royal family, provoking the ire of some of them, while at the same time receiving kudos from members of the public.

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