Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia frees broadcaster held in anti-graft drive

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 9:16pm

Saudi Arabia on Friday released the owner of the influential Arab satellite network MBC nearly three months after his arrest in an anti-corruption drive targeting the kingdom’s elite, sources said.

Waleed al-Ibrahim was among some 350 suspects rounded up since November 4, including billionaire princes and ministers who were detained in Riyadh’s luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Ibrahim held a family gathering at his residence after his release, three MBC employees said on condition of anonymity. Staff received an official email congratulating them on his freedom.

The terms of his release are unclear but the government has said that most detainees have agreed on financial settlements in exchange for their freedom as the anti-corruption campaign winds down.

The Financial Times reported earlier on Friday that authorities had ordered Ibrahim to hand over his controlling stake in MBC to secure his release.

Authorities have so far not commented on his case.

The government on Friday also released a number of other detainees including Khaled Tuwaijri, former chief of the Saudi royal court, and Turki bin Nasser, former head of the country’s meteorology agency, a source close to the government said.

The government has released other high-profile detainees in recent weeks such as former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah following his “settlement” with authorities reportedly exceeding US$1 billion.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of the king, has spearheaded the unprecedented crackdown on alleged corruption among members of the government and royal family, as he consolidates his grip on power in the kingdom.

The most high-profile target of the crackdown was billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal.

Authorities have said most of those detained struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom, which could earn state coffers about US$100 billion.

The windfall settlements will help the government finance a multimillion dollar package announced by King Salman this month to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Al Arabiya television in Davos on Wednesday.

Some critics have labelled the campaign a shakedown, but authorities insist the purge targeted endemic corruption as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

The Ritz-Carlton is set to reopen for business next month as the campaign draws to an end, sources at the hotel have said. Its website lists rooms as available from February 14.