ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh ended its tenure as the world’s most glamorous jail. It was the only prison with five-star service, until its detainees moved out and the hotel became available to guests who came voluntarily.
In November 2017, the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s corruption brigade arrested dozens of the wealthiest Saudis, including businessmen, government officials, and members of the royal family. Many were accused of charges, such as money laundering and bribery.
The government stated that it lost about $100 billion because of corruption and the arrests made it seem like the kingdom was holding the wealthy accountable. The government is walking away with a significant amount of money, even after paying to have the men locked up in an expensive resort. Regardless, the Saudi government has gained a larger control over the media market.
While the government has not confirmed it, different outlets have reported that the men who were freed left because they reached a settlement. Those who have not made a settlement were moved to a proper prison. One of the freed detainees, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. He has maintained his innocence and told reporters that his detention was the result of a misunderstanding, but the government is expected to have obtained some of his assets as part of a deal. Alwaleed holds stakes in several digital and entertainment companies and owns the Rotana Media Group, a large producer of Arabic music and films.
Another freed prisoner is Waleed al-Ibrahim, he runs MBC, a regional broadcasting group. The government allegedly received a large stake in the private company as a result of an undisclosed settlement, but neither side has confirmed it. Al-Ibrahim maintains that he has complete control, but what he cannot hide is that MBC is selling the rights to broadcast Saudi Arabian soccer matches to Saudi telecom, a state-run company, after a long period of refusing to do so.
There has not been clear information on these settlements, and much of it was leaked or attributed to unnamed sources. Interestingly, it has come up mainly in Western and some Western-leaning news outlets. Some of the men released have denied making deals in exchange for their freedom, but different news outlets have been reported contradictory information thanks to the information coming out discreetly.
Saudi news sources like the Saudi Gazette and Arab News seem to have paid little attention to the deals and the government’s larger grasp on different media outlets. Self-censorship is the obvious conclusion, since most of the sources on these settlements appear in Western news media and these stories seem to be making a bigger impact news sources outside of Saudi Arabia.
The Crown Prince has been looking to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy as oil prices have dropped and the country needs other sources of revenue. The detentions were originally believed to be a power grab by the Prince, and if any of the leaks hold up, the Saudi government has more control over the media.