Saudi Arabia has released 23 of the 200-or-so powerful individuals detained since November on corruption charges after they reached deals with the government, Okaz newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The report did not name those involved in what appeared to be the first large-scale release since the royals, business people and government officials were detained in a crackdown spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The suspects have been held at Riyadh’s luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel since early November and told to hand over assets and cash in exchange for their freedom. Okaz said more detainees would be released in the coming days and trial proceedings would begin soon for those who continue to deny the charges against them.
Saudi authorities see the settlements not as blackmail but as an obligation to reimburse money taken illegally from the world’s top oil producer over several decades.
Video posted on social media showed a smiling Saoud Al Daweesh, the former chief executive of Saudi Telecom, telling well-wishers he had been treated decently.
“Private Affairs (a unit of the Royal Court) brought us a full lamb dish day and night. They treated us well and did a good job,” he said.
Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.