Saudi officials are reportedly offering businessmen and royal family members detained under a corruption investigation freedom in exchange for their assets.
The Financial Times cited sources as confirming the government is demanding up to 70 per cent of some individuals’ wealth in return for their release.
The kingdom’s attorney general said last week that at least $100bn of funds had been misused through “systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades”.
Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb confirmed 208 people had been questioned and seven had been released without charge under the corruption purge led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Among those detained is one of the region’s richest businessmen, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who’s net worth through Saudi-listed Kingdom Holding has plunged $2bn to $16.4bn since his arrest became known, according to Forbes.
Others include minister of the national guard Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, Al Tayyar Travel board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, Middle East Broadcasting Centre founder Waleed al-Ibrahim and Saudi Binladin Group chairman Bakr bin Laden.
They are being held in luxury hotels across the kingdom including the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, due to the potential backlash if they were put in prison, an official was quoted as saying.
“They are making settlements with most of those in the Ritz. Cough up the cash and you will go home,” a source told the FT.
If funds are being obtained from those under investigation they could be used to plug the kingdom’s budget deficit, which stood at $12.4bn in the second quarter after a rally in the oil market helped boost government coffers.
A source told the Wall Street Journal last week officials believed they could confiscate up to $800bn of assets through the investigation.
“They reckon they could get around two to three trillion riyals from these people. That’s the number they are talking about,” the source was quoted as saying.
Bloomberg reported this week that the Saudi regulator had suspended the stock trading accounts of those under investigation.
More than 1,700 bank accounts have also been frozen as investigations continue, including those of Saudi citizens in the UAE.