Mystery still shrouds the arrest of billionaire prince Alwaleed

Saudi Arabia freed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen from detention, clearing out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail for the country’s elite during a controversial crackdown on corruption. News of Alwaleed’s release came hours after he was quoted praising members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family. “I can only say I’m supporting the king and crown prince in all the efforts they’re doing to really have a new Saudi Arabia,’ he said. The arrest of Alwaleed, one of the world's most prominent investors, and the billionaire chairman of Riyadh’s Kingdom Holding Co. who owns stakes in Citigroup Inc. and Twitter Inc. had shone a spotlight on the power struggles, societal shifts and systemic changes taking place in Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the country’s new leader —  crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Alwaleed was one among hundreds of luminaries, including princes, tycoons and former cabinet members, who were detained in November as  authorities in Saudi Arabia embarked on what they said was a determined and overdue campaign to root out a deeply-entrenched system of corruption in the kingdom.

The arrest of so many influential Saudis as part of what officials called an “anti-corruption”probe, was intended to send a message that no one was immune to prosecution and to signal to foreign investors that corruption would no longer be tolerated, Saudi officials said. But the exact nature of the accusations and even details of who exactly was arrested were shrouded in mystery. The government disclosed that it was hoping to reach financial settlements with the accused, rather than bring criminal charges. The government has not disclosed how much it had received from the detainees in financial settlements. Media reports put the amount at upwards of $100 billion.

The detainees were not sent to police stations or prisons but to the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh fueling the perception of an elite feud, rather than a law enforcement action, and one that would be settled in private rather than a courtroom. In his interview with Reuters on Saturday Alwaleed asserted his innocence and did not disclose the details of what settlement, if any, he had reached with the government. “I cannot divulge, because there are two parties here,” he said. He portrayed his detention as the result of understandable concerns by the Saudi authorities. “When a high-profile person like me has some doubts around him, it's very important to clear these doubts 100 percent. I have dealings nationally, regionally, internationally, with international banks, with companies,” he said.