By Reuters in Dubai
Former contender for throne released from detention after admitting to several accusations, official says
The senior Saudi prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender for the throne, has been released from detention after paying more than $1bn in a settlement with authorities, a Saudi official said.
Miteb, 65, the son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the elite National Guard, was among dozens of royal family members, ministers and senior officials rounded up as part of a corruption inquiry, partly aimed at strengthening the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Who is Prince Mohammed bin Salman?
Prince Mohammed, 32, is the Saudi crown prince and defence minister. He was named as heir to the throne in a June reshuffle by his father, King Salman, that sidelined his older cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Prince Mohammed’s profile and powers have soared in recent years under the tutelage of his father, who has given him an almost free hand across most aspects of society. He has consolidated more influence than anyone else in the kingdom, spearheading plans for the privatisation of the state oil company, Aramco, taking charge of the war in Yemen, and leading the way in the move to blockade and isolate Qatar.
Reforms and purge
Since his appointment as crown prince, Prince Mohammed has launched a dizzying series of reforms dubbed Vision 2030, designed to transform the kingdom’s moribund economy and put the relationship between the state and its citizens on a new footing, underpinned by a pledge to “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam". On 4 November he led an astonishing corruption purge in which 11 senior princes, one of the country’s richest men and scores of former ministers were arrested. Critics say the purge and his headlong rush to revolutionise is driven by a push for unprecedented power.
The official, who is involved in the anti-corruption campaign, said Miteb was released on Tuesday after reaching “an acceptable settlement agreement”. The amount was not disclosed but the official said it is believed to be the equivalent of more than $1bn (£745m).
“It is understood that the settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases,” the official said.
A Saudi official said the prince was accused of embezzlement, hiring non-existent employees and awarding contracts to his own firms, including a $10bn deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals.
The allegations against the others who were detained included kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery.
The claims could not be independently verified.
Saudi authorities had been working on striking agreements with some of those in detention, asking them to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.
News of the purge emerged in early November, soon after King Salman decreed the creation of an anti-corruption committee led by Prince Mohammed, his 32-year-old favourite son, who has amassed power since his rapid rise three years ago.
The body was given broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and seize assets.
Apart from Miteb, the Saudi official said that at least three other people allegedly involved in corruption cases had finalised settlement agreements.
The public prosecutor had decided to release a number of individuals and to prosecute at least five. The official gave no details of their identities.
The authorities have not revealed detailed charges against any of the detainees. It was also unclear whether Miteb would have full freedom or if he would be put under house arrest. Officials from Miteb’s office could not immediately be reached for comment. An acquaintance of the family said earlier on Twitter that Miteb was receiving brothers and sons at his palace in Riyadh.
However, many observers believe the primary target of the purge was Prince Miteb, who was in charge of the 100,000-strong National Guard and represented the last significant centre of power left standing after the toppling of the former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
By launching a war on corruption, Prince Mohammed bin Salman combined a popular cause with the elimination of perhaps the last obstacles between him and the throne.
As the Sandhurst-trained preferred son of King Abdullah, Miteb was once thought to be a leading contender for the throne.
Before he was sacked by a royal decree on 4 November, he was the last remaining member of Abdullah’s Shammar branch of the family to retain a key position at the top of the Saudi power structure, after brothers Mishaal and Turki were relieved of their posts as governors in 2015.