Middle East Top Stories

Saudi Arabia frees top broadcaster held in anti-graft drive

Saudi Arabia frees top broadcaster held in anti-graft drive

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: 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 told AFP.

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 told AFP on condition of anonymity. The staff also received an official e-mail 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 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 told AFP.

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 $1 billion.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of the king, has spearheaded the unprecedented crackdown on 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, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia. His fate remains unknown.

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

The windfall settlements will help the government finance a multi-million 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 was aimed to target endemic corruption as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

The Ritz-Carlton is set to re-open 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.

AFP