Arrests in Saudi Arabia: living inside a ‘five star prison’


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Media legend A peak inside the Ritz-Carlton, as it houses suspected corruption

Riad Ritzadh palatial hotel, described as "a retreat for those who simply want the royal treatment ", is now transformed into a nerve center for an audacious maneuver by an ambitious crown prince.

It is not the treatment that more than 200 of the richest and most powerful of Saudi Arabia ever expected, and certainly never wished, when Mohammed Bin Salman, 32, launched what was considered an unprecedented campaign against corruption and the abuse of power and privilege in the kingdom.

Three weeks later, the most prestigious hotel in Riyadh continues to be a topic of conversation in the city. But since the midnight raids that caught at least 11 princes and some of the biggest Saudi billionaires, only fragments have emerged. Rumors circulate through Riyadh and many capitals beyond what actually happens inside this golden prison.

No one enters or leaves their black metal doors without official permission.

Legend of the image

Lyse Doucet of the BBC and Philip Goodwin was the first journalist to enter the hotel

Shortly after midnight last week, they allowed us to pbad under the police escort, along an avenue that extended towards the extensive complex bathed in golden light.

When we got off, we were greeted by some of the impeccable hotel employees who still offer service twenty-four hours a day. But there was a more austere reception from the Saudi officials who are now involved in this repression: there are no faces to be filmed by our crew; No conversations were recorded during the first visit of the journalists.

A stay that lasted a few hours, surrounded by officials, could never give a full account. But it provides glimpses of life inside.

Even in the darkness of the night there are groups of men, dressed in traditional white robes and wearing red and white plaid, talking quietly in the dark corners of the cavernous lobby. Almost nobody looks up. Just an occasional clink of silver spoons in porcelain tea cups or coffee cups with foam milk breaks a disturbing silence.

Who are the "special guests"?

The mood, around the same time on November 4, must have been markedly different when some of Saudi Arabia's most privileged elites were forced to register.

"They did not do it" "I believe what was happening," says an official who identifies himself as belonging to the "Special Committee" that pursues this anti-corruption operation. "They thought it was just a show that would not last long."

"Of course they were angry," he admits, with barely concealed satisfaction. "If you tell someone that you're a thief, they get angry." Imagine if it's a VIP. "

We are sitting in one of the elegant groups of sofas and plush chairs along with an official of the public prosecutor's office, and what is described as an independent human rights society. We received an informative session, with the condition that no one be cited by name.

Why bring them here? "We were afraid that some people would have escaped, so we had to keep them inside", is the explanation of this strange, if not outrageous, destination for the people they call "special guests".

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Legend of the image

The Ritz-Carlton has received presidents, prime ministers and royalty

There has not been an official announcement of this Saudi list of who is who. But high profile names had sprung up quickly, including the well-known and wealthy Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns everything from Twitter and Apple to the Four Seasons Hotel and the London Savoy.

It is said that the cousin of the crown prince, Miteb bin Abdullah, who headed the elite of the National Guard, spends his nights at the Ritz as well.

And why did these people, and not others, lead us to affirm that it was a more implacable movement against rivals and real critics?

"Everyone here has a file," responds the official of the prosecutor's office. Office. "Everything is documented."

In the last two years, under the direction of the crown prince, a team has compiled alleged evidence in great secrecy with some documents dating back decades.

Then, once a new anti-corruption committee was announced by royal decree, the money hunters made their move.

Questions about legality are found with references to Saudi law and the independence of the prosecutor.

The judicial official clarifies that this is still "a pre-investigation". "We are asking the people who took the money to return it," he says.

"It's a friendly process," says the anti-corruption official who says everyone was told "we'll show you the evidence and we'll solve the problem."

Rumors of medical crises and ill-treatment

An image of a process that takes place behind closed doors is painted, mainly inside hotel rooms where it is said that 201 detainees spend most of their time of your time. Most, they tell us, want to avoid meeting others. Most want to focus on finding a way out of here.

The mood is now described as "very serious".

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An official recites the new guest registry of the Ritz-Carlton that includes experts from government ministries, the treasury, the stock market, former bankers, specialists in money laundering, justice, as well as real estate. It is said that they are in shift 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help process these cases.

Some stay at the hotel and work from their own offices. Along with medical teams and security guards, more than 500 people are now registered as residents of Ritz-Carlton, at the expense of the Kingdom.

For a few days, seven suspects had gone free. The accounts provided within the hotel, and confirmed by external sources, say that they were able to clarify what was in their file and prove their innocence.

Official sources say that 4% of the accused say they will take their case to court. But 95% of the people on the list are now ready to reach an agreement. That would mean delivering significant amounts of cash or badets to the Saudi treasury in exchange for their freedom.

An entrepreneur in Riyadh, who has seen some of the documents, had told me 1,900 bank accounts, including those belonging to members of the family of suspects, were frozen. I ask the Ritz-Carlton officials about the cash and badet reports for a total of 800 billion dollars.

"Even if we recover 200 billion, that would be good," replies the Special Committee official.

Your zeal is palpable. "You see this," he says as he takes a cup of coffee with a golden border to explain his point. "It should cost $ 10, but with corruption, it costs $ 100." Then, he cites examples from his archives that include unfinished schools and hospitals costing $ 100 million whose price should have been less than a third of that.

Outside this sacred place, rumors of ill-treatment and medical crisis arise.

"Some guests are old and some suffer from diabetes, heart problems or other conditions," explains the human rights official at our briefing.

He says that a health center is staffed 24 hours a day by doctors and nurses, the rooms are checked and special medicines are brought from the homes.

Legend of the image

It is believed that many of the detainees in the hotel are powerful and wealthy people

It is not difficult to imagine the extraordinary anger and stress that this hotel must also fill.

The Saudis who once dominated the kingdom are now held captive against their will.

"If a surgery is performed, there will be pain," says the anti-corruption officer with total naturalness. "And some people outside are angry because their bosses or their families are here."

But he insists that "when it comes to percentages, 99% of Saudis are happy."

"I stay in my room"

It's hard to be scientific about public opinion here. But conversations outside the metal doors of the Ritz underscore that there is widespread support for confronting what is known as rampant corruption.

"It's like losing your watch and then you find it," a young real estate developer tells me. "It's his watch, so he wants it back."

"Our documents go through government offices more quickly," says a prominent business executive who says no one dares to ask for bribes now.

But there is also anxiety. "It's a nightmare," exclaimed a Saudi doctor. "My son's boss is inside and we're all worried." She talks about rumors of abuse during interrogations and about the doctors of the heart who are called.

In my Ritz report, we only hear about what are called "lifestyle problems".

"You can have everything you want in this five-star plus hotel," says one official.

"But we can not bring special food from a special country." When I ask for more details, I'm told It is said that others asked for their own barber, their own mbadeuse.

Saudis accustomed to making decisions have had their cell phones removed, now they can only make calls to what is described as a telephone. In their rooms, lawyers and family members are being called.

There are also calls and visits from officials working in their own companies so they can keep the business running, and visitors enter through back doors to protect their privacy. can also be arranged electronically.


Despite the luxurious setting, most of the detainees focus on their cases

In the early hours of the morning, some men exercise in the gym, a glistening pool is empty and the music resonates in an empty bowling alley.

They offer me a meeting with a suspect chosen by our companions.

"I spend most of my time in my room with my lawyer focusing on my case," a Saudi man with a gray-flecked beard tells me as he sits next to a television transmitting Premier League football. "I talk to my family on the phone every day, but I prefer not to visit here."

My companions tell me not to ask about their case. In such conditions, surrounded by officers in charge of their destiny, I do not ask many questions.

When we leave, he speaks quickly.

"I'm sorry we forgot our traditions," he says with an apologetic smile. "I should have offered you something to eat or drink."

Until this moment of the Ritz-Carlton ends, you will not know a more complete truth about this extraordinary saga. Officials say they expect everyone to leave this hotel by the end of this year or early January.

"The crown prince has to close this chapter quickly," a prominent Saudi investor tells me in a whispered conversation in Riyadh. "If it continues, the questions will continue to be asked."

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