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Mon 15 Jan 2018 02:43 PM

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Ritz Carlton Riyadh to reopen after holding royals in purge

Hotel has been closed since November when princes, ministers and businessmen were rounded up in an anti-corruption purge

Ritz Carlton Riyadh to reopen after holding royals in purge

The Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, a holding place of royals and ministers detained in a sweeping Saudi corruption probe, will re-open for business in February, sources at the hotel said Monday.

One source, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to brief the press, said there were "preparations to open in February" but could not give further details.

The Ritz-Carlton website now lists rooms as available from February 14.

A hotel employee reached by phone also confirmed to AFP that bookings were available as of mid-February.

Asked why there were no bookings currently available, the employee said local authorities "had the whole hotel (booked) for them".

The hotel has been closed for business and its phone line disconnected since early November, when more than 200 princes, ministers and businessmen were rounded up in an anti-corruption purge.

Most of them have had their assets seized and accounts frozen. They have since been held at the palatial building.

Saudi daily Okaz, which has ties to the monarchy, on Monday quoted an unnamed source as saying a number of high-profile detainees had been released from the Ritz-Carlton over the past 48 hours "after reaching settlements".

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of the king, has reportedly spearheaded the unprecedented crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family, as he consolidates his grip on power in the kingdom.

The most high-profile target of the crackdown was billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia.

The country's attorney general has said most of those detained struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom. Authorities say the settlements could earn state coffers about $100 billion.

With its gilded halls and ornate gates, the Ritz-Carlton had for years hosted dignitaries and heads of state visiting Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter of oil.

In May it was adorned with the red, white and blue flag of the United States, with President Donald Trump and his family residing at the hotel during Trump's first official visit abroad.

Former president Barack Obama had also stayed at the five-star hotel.

High-ranking detainees held in the Saudi graft probe are believed to be currently occupying many of the hotel's 492 rooms.

Saudi Arabia, a key regional ally of the United States, is in the midst of a massive political and economic shake-up, marked by the sudden appointment of Prince Mohammed as crown prince in June.

Some observers say the corruption crackdown is part of the consolidation of power under the prince, who sidelined his older cousin as heir to the throne, and is linked to rising tensions within the Al-Saud royal family.

While the Saudi dynasty counts thousands of members, only a handful of whom wield direct influence over the kingdom.

Authorities insist the purge aimed to target endemic corruption as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

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