Nearly two months after its controversial crackdown on corruption that shocked the entire world, Saudi Arabia released a number of its prominent elites, businessmen and royals — including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who is considered to be the Gulf kingdom's richest man — from incarceration at the opulent Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.
Bin Talal’s release came shortly after he sat down with Reuters for his first interview since the arrest and declared he was confident his troubles would soon be over, while showing off the luxurious so-called detention center that he had been condemned to by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, along with nearly 200 others accused of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.
The 52-acre five-star hotel, which reportedly cost the monarchy at least about $425,000 a day only for the accommodation of the detainees, initially drew world’s attention for being a lavish prison. However, earlier this month, it once again made headlines after The New York Times reported the hotel had begun accepting reservations from Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — after refusing to take any bookings for more than two months.
The Ritz-Carlton’s website advertised double-occupancy rooms starting at 2,439 riyals (nearly $650) with earlier dates “Not Available for Check-In.”
Given the fact the hotel, at that point, had been occupied by dozens of privileged Saudis and a cadre of armed security personnel, it was widely assumed the kingdom was either about to wind down its operation or transfer the detainees to another location.
However, the new development indicates the hotel had been planning to reopen to the public just in time for Valentine’s Day way before the detained Saudi royals publicly reached a settlement with the government.
Earlier, the Middle East Monitor had reported that bin Talal, along with 10 other princes, had been moved from his confined quarters at the snazzy Ritz-Carlton and transferred to Al Ha’ir prison. However, in his recent interview at the Ritz-Carlton, bin Talal made a point of giving a tour of his luxurious suite and show off the comforts of his gold-accented private office, dining room and fully stocked kitchen with his preferred vegetarian meals in order to dispel rumors of mistreatment and torture.
“In the corner of his office sat tennis shoes, which he said he used regularly for exercise,” reported Reuters. “A television played business news program and a mug with an image of his own face on it was perched on the desk.”
Although one can’t be certain if the entire tour was staged by bin Salman or the Saudi authorities, the fact that Ritz-Carlton accepted guest reservations for Valentine’s Day weeks before clearing out the businessmen and royals points toward the fact the release plan had been put in motion days before it was revealed to the public.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Faisal Al Nasser, File Photo