Saudi Arabia reportedly uses abuse, coercion to seize billions during anti-corruption purge

A view shows the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

A number of businessmen were subjected to physical abuse and coercion during Saudi Arabia’s so-called anti-corruption campaign, which saw hundreds of the country’s influential elite being arrested last year.

Most of the detainees have since been released, but witnesses are saying that they are living in fear and uncertainty, as they are monitored by guards and are forced to wear ankle bracelets that track their movement. The businessmen and their families are also forbidden to travel.

In November, the Saudi Arabian government locked up these businessmen, along with numerous members of the royal family, in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, as part of a campaign that it dubbed as anti-corruption.

Many of the detainees surrendered huge amounts of money to the government in order to leave the hotel, while others were forced to sign over real estate and company shares to the government.

“We signed away everything,” said a family member of a former detainee. “Even the house I am in, I am not sure if it is still mine.”

According to the government, more than $100 billion was raised from the financial settlements it made with the detainees. These came in the form of land, stakes in businesses, and other assets.

There were also reports of physical abuse that the detainees suffered while being held by the government. At least 17 of the detainees were hospitalized after suffering abuse in the hands of authorities, while one Saudi general died while in custody. A witness reportedly saw the body of Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani with his neck twisted in an unnatural manner as though it had been broken.

Furthermore, a doctor and two other people familiar with the situation said that the body had burn marks which appeared to have resulted from electric shocks.

In response to the reports, an official of the Saudi Embassy in Washington said, “All allegations of abuse and torture of those investigated during the anti-corruption proceedings are absolutely untrue.”