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Saudi detainees 'tortured, abused' in corruption purge that seized billions

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded the crackdown on corruption. [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 March, 2018

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded the crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family as he consolidated his grip on power in the kingdom.

Top Saudi officials and businessmen detained in a three-month anti-corruption purge suffered physical abuse while in captivity, with reports of one death due to suspected torture.

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

Most of the 200 or so detainees were held at the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh after being arrested in November, with the majority striking monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom.

In the early days of the crackdown more than 17 detainees were hospitalised for physical abuse while a Saudi military officer later died in custody, a doctor and American official said, according to The New York Times.

One person who saw the corpse said it was badly swollen and had other signs of abuse, including a neck which appeared twisted.

A doctor and two others people briefed on the condition of the body said it also had burn marks which appeared to be from electric shocks, the NYT reported.

The deceased military officer was named as Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a son of the late King Abdullah and a former governor of Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has not provided an official explanation for the al-Qahtani’s death.

Relatives of the detainees said they were deprived of sleep, interrogated with their heads covered, and physically abused as officials pressured them to sign over large assets.

The rooms at the Ritz had been stripped of curtain rods and glass shower doors to prevent suicide attempts, while detainees had no internet or access to phones.

The Saudi government denied accusations of physical abuse as "absolutely untrue" and said detainees had "full access" to medical care and legal counsel.

Saudi Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said in late January that he would keep 56 detainees in custody and free the rest after completing inquiries into 381 high-profile corruption suspects.

It was unclear if the remaining suspects had been moved to a prison facility.

Total settlements with the suspects had topped $107 billion in various forms of assets handed over that included property, securities and cash.

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