Asleep on the floor of their ‘luxury’ five star prison 11 Saudi princes, government ministers and businessmen await their fate following their arrest in the biggest anti-corruption purge of the kingdom’s modern history.
The men are seen gathered together at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh inside one of its function rooms – wrapped in blankets and sleeping on thin mattresses.
Saudi sources say that among those photographed in the room are billionaire investor Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who is a nephew of the king, worth an estimated $18 billion.
The photograph was revealed as President Trump went all-in supporting the man who ordered the mass arrests, Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the ferociously ambition 32-year-old heir to the throne.
In two tweets he said: ‘I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing….
‘….Some of those they are harshly treating have been “milking” their country for years!’
Those arrested have been locked in the five star hotel as the sweeping anti-corruption probe ordered by Saudi King Salman’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, continues.
The reshuffling happened as Saudi King Salman swore in new officials to replace those arrested. Rumors swirled the royals were receiving five-star accommodations when the Ritz Carlton was evacuated Saturday.
Ironically they are huddled on the floor of one of the grand function rooms which last month played host to the Future Investment Conference, a gathering of world business leaders which Prince Mohammed used to highlight his commitment to turning Saudi Arabia to ‘moderate Islam’ – and which some of those arrested attended.
The arrests that began late Saturday included Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who for the past four years had led the National Guard, and Prince Adel Fakeih, who was minister of economy since April.
Prince Miteb was once considered a contender for the throne, though he has not been thought of recently as a challenger to Prince Mohammed.
The men were reportedly arrested in a crackdown that the attorney general described as ‘phase one’.
Prince Al-Waleed is accused of money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, an official told Reuters on Sunday.
The campaign of arrests lengthens an already daunting list of challenges undertaken by the 32-year-old king since his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015.
Those include going to war in Yemen, cranking up Riyadh’s confrontation with arch-foe Iran and reforming the economy to lessen its reliance on oil.
Both allies and adversaries are quietly astounded that a kingdom once obsessed with stability has acquired such a taste for assertive policy-making.
‘The kingdom is at a crossroads: Its economy has flatlined with low oil prices; the war in Yemen is a quagmire; the blockade of Qatar is a failure; Iranian influence is rampant in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; and the succession is a question mark,’ wrote ex-CIA official Bruce Riedel for Reuters.
‘It is the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half-century.’
The crackdown has drawn no public opposition within the kingdom either on the street or on social media.
Many ordinary Saudis applauded the arrests, the latest in a string of domestic and international moves asserting the prince’s authority.
The campaign of mass arrests expanded on Monday as a top entrepreneur Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar was reported to have been detained.
Al Tayyar Travel plunged 10 percent in the opening minutes after the company quoted media reports as saying board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar had been detained in the anti-corruption drive.
Saudi Aseer Trading, Tourism and Manufacturing and Red Sea International separately reported normal operations after the reported detentions of board members Abdullah Saleh Kamel, Khalid al-Mulheim and Amr al-Dabbagh.
Saudi banks have begun freezing suspects’ accounts, sources told Reuters.
The attorney general said on Monday detainees had been questioned and ‘a great deal of evidence’ had been gathered.
‘Yesterday[Sunday] does not represent the start, but the completion of Phase One of our anti-corruption push,’ Saud al-Mojeb said. Probes were done discreetly ‘to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure there was no flight from justice.’
Investigators had been collecting evidence for three years and would ‘continue to identify culprits, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions and bring offenders to justice’, anti-graft committee member Khalid bin Abdulmohsen Al-Mehaisen said.
The front page of leading Saudi newspaper Okaz challenged businessmen to reveal the sources of their assets, asking: ‘Where did you get this?’
Another headline from Saudi-owned al-Hayat warned: ‘After the launch (of the anti-corruption drive), the noose tightens, whomever you are!’
A no-fly list has been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit, pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat said.
Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials.
‘It’s mostly princes from the previous system who made a lot of money in business. That’s the common denominator,’ Steffen Hertog of the London School of Economics told Reuters.
‘Perhaps they can’t go after all at the same time so possibly ones who are least popular or have a beef with the current leadership (have been held). It’s pretty systematic.’
Consultancy Eurasia Group said the ‘clearly politicized’ anti-corruption campaign was a step towards separating the Al Saud family from the state: ‘Royal family members have lost their immunity, a long standing golden guarantee’.
Over the past year, the crown prince has become the top decision-maker on military, foreign and economic policy, championing subsidy cuts, state asset sales and a government efficiency drive.
The reforms have been well-received by much of Saudi Arabia’s overwhelmingly young population, but resented among some of the more conservative old guard.