VIDEO footage emerged on Tuesday showing how the luxury hotel has been turned into a bizarre prison camp where some of the country’s richest and most powerful individuals are reduced to sleeping in blankets on the floor.
Some 49 members of the Saudi elite including 11 princes are facing charges of money laundering, bribery, extortion, and abuse of public office after being rounded up in an extraordinary series of arrests in the early hours of Sunday morning in an anti-corruption purge.
The arrests sent shock waves through the country and have been interpreted by some as a purge of rivals to Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
“There is no jail for royals,” said a Saudi businessman with ties to the government.
“The purge is one thing, but a prince cannot be seen imprisoning fellow princes along with common criminals.
“Choosing that hotel it is a sign to the world: Mohammed bin Salman is in charge and no one is too rich to be brought down. The palace can become a prison.”
The Saudi information ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that there was “no truth” in rumours circulating online that another prince, Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd, a son of the late king Fahd, had been killed resisting arrest on Saturday night.
Two weeks ago the hotel played host to a conference in which Mohammed bin Salman announced his plans for sweeping reforms across the kingdom, dubbed “Davos in the desert” and widely attended by foreign dignitaries and leading business figures.
Its reluctant guests this week include some of the Kingdom’s wealthiest individuals. The 11 princes alone are worth a combined $73 billion (£56 billion).
They include Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding and owner of London’s Savoy hotel; Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel; and Amr al-Dabbagh, chairman of builder Red Sea International.
Stocks in all three companies, which have issued statements saying they continue to operate as normal, plunged between 9 and 10 per cent on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies as part of the purge, according to Reuters.
Saudi authorities have said assets found to have been obtained illegally may be seized by the state. It is not clear how long the princes will be held there.
The hotel, which charges £242 a night for a standard double room, asked guests to leave on Monday, citing “unforeseen circumstances out of the hotel management’s control”.
The hotel’s website shows that it is block booked until December 16.
The crackdown may prove popular with the Saudi public, said Jane Kinnenmont of Chatham House, a London think-tank.
“It is a purge that is likely to be pretty popular. Corruption is a real issue in Saudi Arabia and one that people are genuinely angry about,” she said.
Donald Trump, the US president, who has backed Salman’s hardline stance on Iran, appeared to publicly endorse the crackdown.
Writing on Twitter, he said he had “great confidence” in the Crown Prince and his father, King Salman.
“They know exactly what they are doing,” he tweeted. “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years.”
The purge comes amid spiralling tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which it has blamed for arming Houthi rebels in Yemen who fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh on Saturday night.
The crown prince on Tuesday called the attack, which was intercepted by Saudi missile defences, “direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war.”
Iran, which supports the Houthi rebels but denies arming them, said it had nothing to do with the attack.
The Saudi government announced a blockade of all air land and sea entry to Yemen, where it is fighting on the government side in a two-year-old civil war, in the aftermath of the attack.
Aid agencies and the United Nations have been forced to suspend deliveries of humanitarian aid to the war torn country as a result.
The exchange came after the prime minister of Lebanon resigned during a visit to Riyadh in what was widely seen as the opening of a new front in the region-wide confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh.
Saad al-Hariri stepped down on Saturday in a televised address in which he accused Iran of meddling in the region and possibly plotting to assassinate him.
Iran denied the allegations and accused the US and Saudi Arabia of forcing Hariri to resign in order to “create tension” in Lebanon.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, warned on Tuesday that the mounting tension between Saudi Arabia, Iran and their respective allies and proxies is “extremely dangerous.”
She said in Washington, European officials would like to see both sides calm their rhetoric and seek a “minimum of common ground” on which to build peace.
– Nov 8, 2017 @ 09:53 GMT |