Saudi Graft Suspects Are Said to Start Payments for Freedom

Photographer: Waseem Obaidi/Bloomberg
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Saudi suspects being held as part of the kingdom’s crackdown on alleged corruption are starting to make payments to settle cases in exchange for freedom, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Some businessmen and officials being detained at the Ritz-Carlton are signing agreements with authorities to transfer a portion of their assets to avoid trial, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. Some detainees have started to transfer funds from personal accounts to government-controlled accounts, the people said.

The payments, less than a month since the detentions, show the speed at which Saudi Arabia wants to settle the corruption probe that involved the sudden arrests of royals and billionaires such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal this month. The purge — while welcomed by some in Saudi Arabia — has also stirred political uncertainty in the kingdom at a time when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to attract international investment.

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“The government is looking to send a firm message in the recent sweep,” said Emad Mostaque, London-based co-chief investment officer of emerging-markets hedge fund Capricorn Fund Managers Ltd. “Settlements are a standard way to move forward in most countries, recovering lost assets while allowing business leaders to potentially continue building and diversifying the economy.”

The government’s Center for International Communication didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

$100 Billion Recovery

Authorities estimate they may be able to recover between $50 billion and $100 billion from settlement agreements with suspects, a senior official said this week. Suspects are being offered settlements to avoid trial, the Saudi official said. If they accept, talks are held with a special committee to work out the details. Payments are based on the amounts authorities believe suspects have amassed illegally, not their entire wealth, the official said.

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The crackdown comes at a delicate time for Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy grappling with the worst economic slowdown since 2009 as well as political unrest in the region. Economists expect the investigation to slow already sluggish private investment in the kingdom and hit economic growth next year.

Wealthy Saudis are seeking to restructure their businesses to ring fence assets in case authorities widen the crackdown, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The purge has also prompted some Saudi billionaires and millionaires to sell investments in neighboring Gulf countries and turning them into cash or liquid holdings overseas to avoid the risk of getting caught up in the sweep, other people said.

Source Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek

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