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S.Arabia ends 15-month anti-corruption drive

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 14, 2019. Reuters

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has ended a sprawling crackdown on corruption ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that it said had recovered more than US$106 billion through settlements with scores of senior princes, ministers and top businessmen.

A royal court statement said the government had summoned 381 people, some as witnesses, under the campaign launched in November 2017, but it provided no names.

It said 87 people confessed to charges against them and reached secret settlements that included the forfeiture of real estate, companies, cash and other assets.

The campaign ended as abruptly as it began, despite speculation within the local business community that a new round of arrests was imminent.

The public prosecutor refused to settle the cases of 56 others due to existing criminal charges against them, and eight more who declined settlement offers stand accused of corruption, the statement said. Detainees who were not indicted were freed.

For the first three months of the campaign, many of the kingdom’s economic and political elite were held in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Some detainees were reportedly tortured, which the authorities have denied.

Critics called it a shakedown and power play by Prince Mohammed. It unsettled some foreign investors that he is courting to diversify the country’s economy away from oil.

Prince Mohammed has defended the anti-corruption campaign as “shock therapy” as he tries to overhaul the economy.

His social reforms, including the easing of such restrictions as bans on cinemas and women driving, have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrests of dozens of clerics, women’s rights activists and intellectuals.

The original sweep netted cousins of Prince Mohammed such as billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, National Guard minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah.

Prince Miteb was freed within weeks after agreeing to pay more than $1 billion to settle corruption allegations against him, a Saudi official said at the time. Two months later, Prince Alwaleed settled after reaching what he called “a confirmed understanding between me and the government.” Prince Turki has not been heard from since.

Also detained were senior officials, including ousted economy minister Adel Fakieh, who is believed to still be in detention, and former chief of the royal court Khalid al-Tuwaijri.

Top businessmen were held alongside them. Waleed al-Ibrahim and Saleh Kamel were released early on, while others including Amr Dabbagh and Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi only got out this month.

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