It has been more than a year since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered a sweeping “corruption crackdown” that involved arresting dozens of the kingdom’s wealthiest and most well-connected businessmen and political elites and locking them up in an ad hoc prison inside the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, according to the Financial Times.
Almost immediately after news of the arrests crossed into Western media, rumors that the detainees were being abused and tortured started filtering through as well. Images of dirty mattresses splayed across the floor of the same ballroom where MbS had only weeks earlier held his “Davos in the Desert” investment forum shocked viewers, as did reports that one detainee – reportedly a Saudi military officer – died during a particularly grueling interrogation session.
After dozens of detainees – a group that reportedly included Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal – agreed to surrender billions of dollars in assets and cash, most were let go; others were moved to a more traditional prison where, according to the Financial Times, some are being held on corruption charges to this day. Others, including Mohammed al-Amoudi, a Saudi-Ethiopian businessman, and Amr al-Dabbagh, a senior executive, have only just been released as the crackdown officially came to a close.
In recognition of the end of the probe, the Saudi government has finally confirmed that, all told, the Saudi state yielded more than $100 billion during the crackdown.
And for the first time, the kingdom also released official numbers about the number of people who were detained, the number who settled and the number who have been referred for further prosecution after the kingdom “refused to settle” because of “existing corruption charges,” per the FT.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most salient details from the FT report:
- MbS’s statement on the crackdown: “The kingdom will continue its efforts to preserve integrity, combat corruption and empower law enforcement and other relevant state bodies so that they are able to effectively practice their role in preserving public funds.”
- The government summoned 381 people, including witnesses, as part of the crackdown, according to the Royal Court.
- Settlements were reached with 87 after they confessed to the charges against them. Eight people refused to settle and were referred to prosecutors for further charges.
- The attorney-general refused to settle with 56 people because of existing criminal charges against them.
- Seized assets recovered included real estate, companies and cash.
- The government believes the crackdown was “necessary” as the kingdom embarked on a raft of MbS’s economic reforms.
Of course, thanks to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, the ruthlessness that MbS exercised during the crackdown has been largely overshadowed.
But if Saudi’s oil production cuts fail to sustain the January rally in oil, and the kingdom is once again presented with the logistical challenge of filling a massive budget hole, we wouldn’t be surprised to see MbS order another round.