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Saudi graft settlements may top US$100 billion as probe nears end
[DUBAI] Saudi authorities will likely recover more than US$100 billion in settlement agreements with corruption suspects in a probe that has implicated dozens of princes and billionaires, a senior government official said.
Talks with suspects held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh are expected to wrap up by the end of the month, and those who don't reach deals will be referred to prosecutors, said the official, who asked not to be identified because the details are private.
Authorities have already agreed to drop charges against about 90 suspects who were released, Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in an interview at the hotel late on Sunday. About 95 others were still at the Ritz, he said, including five who were weighing settlement proposals. The rest were reviewing evidence presented against them, he said.
The hotel is taking bookings as of Feb 14, more than three months after it turned into a gilded prison for the kingdom's richest people, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The purge, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reverberated across board rooms, financial markets and world capitals as bankers, analysts and diplomats sought to asses its impact on the biggest Arab economy.
Mr Al Mojeb, who declined to discuss individual cases, defended the probe against criticism over a lack of transparency in the process for determining payments to secure freedom.
"We are in a new era," he said as Arabic music streamed through loudspeakers at the hotel lobby. "Corruption will be eradicated. The campaign against corruption won't stop." The settlement payments being processed were a combination of cash, real estate, stocks and other asset classes, the senior government official said. Only a handful of those still detained at the hotel will likely reach an agreement with the authorities, the official said.
About 350 people have been summoned for questioning since King Salman ordered the anti-graft probe on Nov. 4. Many were invited as witnesses or to provide information, with some spending only a few hours or less at the Ritz, the official said.
The palatial hotel that hosted U.S. President Donald Trump in May was brightly lit shortly before midnight on Sunday. There was no sign of a large security presence outside the building.
Staff members said their current guests had access to the Ritz's spa, gym and facilities such as a bowling alley. The restaurant served a variety of cuisines and could accommodate any special dietary requirements.
Al Mojeb said all suspects had access to legal council, though many chose to settle voluntarily without outside representation. Those released faced no restrictions on their movement.
"The royal order was clear," he said. "Those who express remorse and agree to settle will have any criminal proceedings against them dropped."