Saudi Arabian prince freed in US1bn settlement agreement, official says

Reuters, RIYADH

Thu, Nov 30, 2017 - Page 6

Senior Saudi Arabian Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender to the throne, has been freed after agreeing to pay more than US$1 billion to settle corruption allegations against him, a Saudi Arabian official said yesterday.

Miteb, 65, son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the elite National Guard, was among dozens of royal family members, high officials and senior businessmen rounded up this month in a crackdown on graft that has strengthened the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The official, who is involved in the crackdown and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Miteb was released on Tuesday after reaching “an acceptable settlement agreement.”

The official said he believed the agreed sum to be the equivalent of more than US$1 billion.

“It is understood that the settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases,” the official said, without giving details.

According to the official, Prince Miteb was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own firms, including a deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear.

Prince Miteb is the first senior figure known to be released among those detained. About 200 people in total have been questioned in the crackdown, authorities said earlier this month.

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

Saudi Arabian authorities, who estimate they could eventually recover about US$100 billion of illicit funds, have been working on reaching agreements with suspects detained at Riyadh’s luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel, asking them to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

Apart from Miteb, the official said that at least three other suspects had finalized settlement agreements and that the public prosecutor had decided to release several individuals.

The prosecutor has decided to put at least five people on trial, the official said without disclosing their identities.

The fate of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding and one of the nation’s most prominent international businessmen, was not known.

Kingdom issued a statement earlier this month saying it was continuing to operate normally, but has not responded to queries about Prince Alwaleed’s status since he was detained early this month.

Two sources said that Prince Alwaleed has so far refused to reach a settlement and had asked for access to his lawyer to fight allegations against him.

Relatives, his lawyer and officials in his office could not be contacted for comment.

The settlements might mean authorities could soon wind down parts of the probe, reducing the risk of damage to the economy through the freezing of hundreds of bank accounts and easing the danger that firms linked to detainees could be affected.

Officials from Prince Miteb’s office could not be reached for comment about his release and it was unclear if he was able to move freely or whether he would be put under house arrest.

An acquaintance of the family said earlier on his Twitter account that Prince Miteb was receiving brothers and sons at his palace in Riyadh.