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World

AFP
February 12, 2018
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A night at the Ritz: Riyadh ´5-star prison´ back in business

RIYADH: Leaping bronze stallions adorn the lobby, Western consultants hobnob over tea and scones and a sumptuous buffet is laid out -- Riyadh´s Ritz-Carlton appears exactly as it was before it became a gilded prison.

Guests trickled in after the palatial 500-room hotel reopened on Sunday to find few signs of the three-month incarceration of princes, ministers and business moguls in an unprecedented anti-corruption purge.

Many of the 381 suspects, including flamboyant billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal -- dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia -- have been released in recent weeks in exchange for what officials call financial settlements.

Other high-profile detainees included former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, construction magnate Bakr bin Laden and media mogul Waleed bin Ibrahim.

Each detainee was given his own room -- with room service and television, but no internet or telephone access to prevent contact with the outside world, according to multiple business associates interviewed by AFP.

Sharp objects such as glass items and curtain chords were also removed to prevent suicide attempts, they said.

All those services and items were available in an eighth-floor deluxe room that an AFP reporter checked into on Sunday.

It was impossible to know whether a detainee had stayed there or the room had been refurbished.

Many of the high-profile detainees are believed to have been kept in apartment-like royal suites, which comprise bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and a living room, according to the hotel website.

As service resumed at the hotel, staff appeared to have been instructed not to talk to journalists about the purge, launched by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The hotel´s reopening appeared to be as shrouded in secrecy as the crackdown itself. The government has not revealed all the names of the 381 suspects or the charges and nature of settlements, prompting alarm among international investors at the apparent lack of due process, observers say.

"As the Ritz re-opens with a lavish food buffet and an upgrade of services, it will take more than a fresh coat of paint to convince investors that Prince Mohammed´s kingdom is completely safe to check-in to," Andrew Bowen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP.

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