January 24, 2018 / 12:46 PM / a year ago

Saudi still holding 95 people as it aims to wind down corruption probe

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian authorities are still holding 95 people in an anti-corruption campaign launched by the crown prince in November, according to the kingdom’s attorney general.

FILE PHOTO: Prince Alwaleed bin Talal attends the traditional Saudi dance known as 'Arda', which was performed during Janadriya culture festival at Der'iya in Riyadh February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Fayez Nureldine/Pool/File Photo

In an info graphic cited by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya on Wednesday, the attorney general said 90 detainees had been released after having their charges dropped while others had traded cash, real estate and other assets for their freedom.

“Only a couple of days till cases of corruption-related settlements are closed in preparation for referring remaining defendants to the Public Prosecution,” the graphic said.

Saudi security forces have rounded up members of the political and business elite, including princes and tycoons, holding them in Riyadh’s opulent Ritz Carlton hotel in what was billed as a war on rampant corruption.

The purge has caused concern about damage to the economy especially among foreign investors the kingdom is seeking to attract to develop its economy away from oil. But the government has insisted it is respecting due process and that the companies of detained businessmen will continue operating normally.

The allegations, which could not be verified, include kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery.

The Ritz is expected to reopen for business next month, and official sources have told Reuters that the authorities were close to winding up a major part of the crackdown. Riyadh hopes to recover about $100 billion (£70.6 billion) of illicit funds and expects a small number to be prosecuted.

In late November, senior Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender to the throne, was freed after reaching a settlement with authorities that involved paying more than $1 billion, according to a Saudi official.

Another top businessman who has been held at the Ritz-Carlton is billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman and owner of global investment firm Kingdom Holding 4280.SE. A Saudi official told Reuters this week that he was negotiating a possible settlement but so far had not agreed on terms.

The attorney general’s statement said those who were released are free to move without restrictions.

Reporting By Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean

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