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Wed 24 Jan 2018 02:33 PM

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Saudi purge settlements to finance royal handouts

Cash obtained from people detained in crackdown will help fund $13bn package to help citizens cope with rising cost of living

Saudi purge settlements to finance royal handouts
(HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Cash settlements obtained from people detained in Saudi Arabia's crackdown on corruption will help to finance a 50 billion riyal ($13.3 billion) package to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said on Wednesday.

The package was announced by King Salman early this month, said Jadaan, speaking to Al Arabiya television at the World Economic forum in Davos. He said the package would also be financed by money from the state budget.

Separately, the kingdom's attorney general said Saudi Arabian authorities are still holding 95 people in an anti-corruption campaign launched by the crown prince in November.

In an info graphic cited by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya on Wednesday, the attorney general said 90 detainees had been released after having their charges dropped while others had traded cash, real estate and other assets for their freedom.

"Only a couple of days till cases of corruption-related settlements are closed in preparation for referring remaining defendants to the Public Prosecution," the graphic said.

Saudi security forces have rounded up members of the political and business elite, including princes and tycoons, holding them in Riyadh's opulent Ritz Carlton hotel in what was billed as a war on rampant corruption.

The purge has caused concern about damage to the economy especially among foreign investors the kingdom is seeking to attract to develop its economy away from oil. But the government has insisted it is respecting due process and that the companies of detained businessmen will continue operating normally.

The allegations, which could not be verified, include kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery.

The Ritz is expected to reopen for business next month, and official sources have told Reuters that the authorities were close to winding up a major part of the crackdown. Riyadh hopes to recover about $100 billion of illicit funds and expects a small number to be prosecuted.

In late November, senior Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender to the throne, was freed after reaching a settlement with authorities that involved paying more than $1 billion, according to a Saudi official.

Another top businessman who has been held at the Ritz-Carlton is billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman and owner of global investment firm Kingdom Holding. A Saudi official told Reuters this week that he was negotiating a possible settlement but so far had not agreed on terms.

The attorney general's statement said those who were released are free to move without restrictions.