NBC News has reported that the Saudi princes and businessmen who were detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh last year were subjected to torture and blackmail. Exactly one year ago, on Sunday 4 November, the luxurious hotel was transformed into a detention centre for the extremely wealthy detainees when Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman launched an anti-corruption drive against Saudi Arabia's royal family, wealthy businessmen and senior government officials.
According to the NBC report, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has information about the Ritz detainees being subjected to various kinds of abuse, torture and extortion. Sleep deprivation alone, it is alleged, led to the hospitalisation of 17 detainees. Indeed, claimed the network, Major General Ali Bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani, one of the most prominent figures during the reign of late King Abdullah, died under torture after his arrest.
One Canadian businessman has claimed that he spoke to well-known Saudi businessman Al-Waleed Bin Talal during his detention. Alain Bender said that Bin Talal was held in a room like a cell and had a difficult and uncomfortable time in detention. Bender is said to have spoken to Bin Talal via a video call. He added that a former court adviser confided to him that Bin Talal's jailers "slapped some detainees and hung them upside down." An earlier report by Reuters said that the same royal adviser, Saud Al-Qahtani, supervised the torture of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri during his detention in Riyadh last year.
On their release, the NBC News report claims, some of the prisoners were placed under house arrest and had electronic tags fitted to monitor their movements. Others had travel bans imposed on them.
The detainees were forced to sign substantial waivers of their rights of ownership in exchange for their freedom. While some resisted such a condition, most accepted after being subjected to psychological abuse and torture, US officials were quoted as saying by various media outlets.
The anti-corruption campaign allowed Bin Salman to tighten his grip on the Kingdom and sent shockwaves through the Saudi elites, whose wealth and well-being depended entirely on his whim. This was disturbing to many people, said NBC News. One senior US official who was in office at that time asserted that, "This was a coup d'état in Saudi Arabia and an act of power enforcement."
One year down the line, and Saudi Arabia is under even greater scrutiny following the premeditated killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. The order for the murder is said to have originated "at the very top" in Riyadh, which means Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. This has damaged the Kingdom's standing in the international community.
While NBC News believes that Bin Salman will survive the fallout of the Khashoggi murder, the crisis arose in part from last year's detention of adversaries and potential rivals in a power struggle. The latter include the sons of the late King Abdullah.
The apparent end of the anti-corruption campaign does not mean that the issue has been forgotten. Bin Salman has succeeded in creating a deep sense of resentment across Saudi Arabia, and could well expect to see yet more opposition to his autocratic rule as the de facto head of government.