RIYADH • Senior Saudi Arabian prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender for the throne, has been freed after agreeing to pay over US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) to settle corruption allegations against him, a Saudi official has said.
Prince Miteb, 65, son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the elite National Guard, was among dozens of royal family members, high officials and senior businessmen rounded up this month in a crackdown on graft that has strengthened the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The official, who is involved in the crackdown and spoke on condition of anonymity, yesterday said Prince Miteb was released on Tuesday after reaching "an acceptable settlement agreement".
The official said he believed the agreed sum to be the equivalent of over US$1 billion.
"It is understood that the settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases," the official said, without giving details.
According to the official, Prince Miteb was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own firms, including a deal for walkie-talkies and bulletproof military gear.
Saudi authorities... have been working on reaching agreements with suspects detained at Riyadh's luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel, asking them to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom. Apart from Prince Miteb, the Saudi official said that at least three other suspects had finalised settlement agreements and that the public prosecutor had decided to release several individuals.
Prince Miteb is the first senior figure known to be released among those detained. Around 200 people in total have been questioned in the crackdown, the authorities said earlier this month.
The allegations, which include kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery, could not be independently verified.
Saudi authorities, who estimate they could eventually recover around US$100 billion of illicit funds, have been working on reaching agreements with suspects detained at Riyadh's luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel, asking them to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.
Apart from Prince Miteb, the Saudi official said that at least three other suspects had finalised settlement agreements and that the public prosecutor had decided to release several individuals.
The prosecutor has decided to put at least five people on trial, the official said without disclosing their identities.
The fate of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding and one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent international businessmen, was not known.
Kingdom issued a statement earlier this month saying it was continuing to operate normally but has not responded to queries about his status since he was detained early this month.
Two Saudi sources told Reuters that Prince Alwaleed has so far refused to reach a settlement and had asked for access to his lawyer in order to fight allegations against him.
The settlements may mean that the authorities can soon wind down parts of the probe, reducing the risk of damage to the economy through the freezing of hundreds of bank accounts, and easing the danger that firms linked to detainees could be affected.
The arrests of royals and top businessmen have been welcomed by many Saudis who are frustrated by corruption, but the crackdown is also seen by many people as a pre-emptive step by Prince Mohammed to remove any possible challenge to his control over the world's top oil exporting country.
The round-up follows a meticulously planned palace coup in June through which Prince Mohammed ousted his elder cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne.