Talking to the Guardian, former detainees talk about what happened at Riyadh Ritz-Carlton Hotel after it was used to imprison members of Saudi Arabia’s business and political elite as part of Crown Prince bin Salman’s so-called corruption purge.
Saudi Arabian guards who were involved in the detention of scores of the kingdom’s economic and political elite at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a so-called corruption crackdown are reportedly also connected to the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
A report published by the Guardian on the third anniversary of the Saudi purge shared details provided by former detainees of the luxury prison.
Critics had decried the campaign that began in 2017 as a shakedown and power play by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is aiming to overhaul the way the deeply conservative kingdom is run and wean it off dependence on oil revenues.
The round-up began with the phone calls to the targets to summon them for an alleged meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or King Salman bin Abdulaziz, according to unnamed sources who were detained in the crackdown.
Others were told that royal court officials would meet them at their homes. Instead, guards came and took them to Ritz hotel, by then a five-star prison.
The sources said they were tortured under the supervision of two ministers, who are said to be close confidants of the Saudi Crown Prince.
“This was about consolidating his rule, plain and simple. It came before the Khashoggi atrocity, and the fact that he got away with it allowed him to do the latter. The same guards involved in the Ritz were involved in the killing. History won’t be kind to MBS on either,” one of the sources said.
Gruesome murder of Khashoggi
Khashoggi – a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince bin Salman was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding.
Turkish officials believe his body was dismembered and removed from the building, while his remains have not been found.
After denying any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance for two weeks, Saudi Arabia later said investigation showed Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after a fight with people he met there.
Activists and human rights groups have said the murder was premeditated and carried out upon directives of Crown Prince bin Salman, a charge Riyadh denies.
'Torturers were all Saudi'
One source said that after arriving at the Ritz-Carlton, "The first night everyone was blindfolded and nearly everyone was exposed to what Egyptian intelligence calls 'night of the beating.'"
"People were asked if they knew why they were there. No one knew. Most were beaten, some badly beaten. In a stress position (one's toes sticking to the wall). "There were people attached to the wall. It lasted for hours and the torturers were all Saudi." said the source.
The source said that the next day an interrogation was initiated, especially about assets outside the country, and that some people were threatened with disclosure of information about their private life, such as cheating on their spouses.
The source pointed out the interrogators were not well-versed with how the financial world functioned and thought that all the detainees' assets were kept in cash.
Another source said officials of Swiss banks at one point suspected transactions and stopped some transfers.
Mohammed bin Salman insisted that the people whose wealth was confiscated were criminals of corruption, and it was later emphasised that the Saudi coffers were filled with $107 billion recovered from 87 people.
However, one of the sources who spoke to the Guardian said the amount of the confiscated money was closer to $28 billion and that the incident shattered any trust that was held between the monarchy and the Saudi business world.