World Economy

Saudis Begin Trial of Corruption Detainees

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has begun investigating the corruption cases of princes, top officials and businessmen who were detained late last year, an official told a pan-Arab newspaper.

Saud al-Hamad, deputy attorney general for investigations, told the Al Sharq Al Awsat daily on Sunday that whoever is charged will be referred to court for prosecution in cases related to money laundering or terrorism, Aljazeera reported.

It is the latest saga into what Saudi authorities have called a corruption case, hundreds of people were rounded up last November under orders from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many of the people were princes, high-profile businessmen, and governors who were confined and interrogated at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Most of them, including global investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, were released after being exonerated or reaching financial settlements with the government in January.

Saudi Arabia’s attorney general has said the state recovered $107 billion in settlements, including property, securities and cash.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel reopened to the public in February, although 56 people who had not reached settlements remain in custody in the hotel.

Hamad said some of those under investigation had failed to respect confidential agreements while others committed further, unspecified, offences. However, he provided no other details about the suspects.

The corruption sweep was seen as critical to transforming an oil-dependent economy long plagued by graft but now contending with lower global crude prices.

Yet the campaign remains shrouded in secrecy with few specific allegations or details of financial settlements revealed.

Meanwhile, Twitter users in the Middle East have mocked a Saudi plan to develop a maritime channel along the Saudi-Qatari border, saying it will never see the light of day.

Saudi newspaper Sabq reported on Thursday that the project, which is still awaiting official approval, involves the construction of a maritime channel between the Saudi regions of Salwa and Khawr Al-Udayd.

Sabq said the waterway will be 60km in length, 200 meters wide and between 15-20 meters deep, enabling it to receive “container and passenger ships”.

The newspaper said that a 1km stretch of land north of the canal, bordering Qatar, would become a “military zone”, permanently ending land trade between the two Persian Gulf Arab countries.

It said the initial cost of the project would be SR2.8 billion ($750m), adding that it could be completed within 12 months.

The anti-Qatar sentiment comes amid an illegal blockade against the Arab Gulf country by Saudi Arabia, which has imposed a land, air and sea embargo against it.

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