Check Out the 5-Star Riyadh Hotel That Was Used as a Prison for Billionaires

When you think about the Ritz-Carlton, you typically don’t think prison, but the Ritz in Riyadh was recently turned into the most luxurious prison in the world. The detainees’ crime? Corruption. Read on to learn about how and why one of the most lavish hotels in the world got turned into a prison for corrupt princes and businessmen.

1. The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh

It is most definitely a luxury destination. | Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

The Riyadh Ritz-Carlton boasts such features as a state-of-the-art conference space, six luxury dining options, a high-end bowling alley, and a gentlemen’s spa that offers “an array of treatments.” In the Saudi kingdom, it’s considered the most prestigious luxury hotel. But on November 4, 2017, it transformed into the most prestigious luxury hotel prison. BBC were the first journalists allowed inside the hotel-turned-prison, and you can see for yourself, the facility definitely still looks more like a luxury hotel than a prison.

Next: Prince Mohamed is leading the crackdown on corruption. 

2. An anti-corruption crackdown

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh

The crown prince decided to crack down on corruption. | Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Dozens of prominent Saudi figures, including at least 11 princes, were being detained in the most luxurious prison in the world as part of an anti-corruption movement started by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. The prominent prisoners were detained for such crimes as abuse of power, corruption, and money laundering. Though the full list of names was never officially released, we know Prince Alwaleed, retail billionaire Fawaz Al Hokair, head of the royal court Khalid al-Tuwaijri, and Prince Turki bin Nasser were all kept at The Ritz-Carlton.

Next: The prisoners have been released. 

3. There are currently no more detainees

The hallway of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh

The prisoners have been released for now. | Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

As of January 23, 2018, there are no more detainees being held at the Ritz. According to an exclusive interview given by Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, about 90 people were released after they agreed to pay back their illegally attained money. Those who didn’t reach an agreement will be referred to a public prosecutor, according to Bloomberg.

Next: Who’s guilty 

4. Just because someone reached a financial agreement doesn’t mean he’s necessarily guilty

Saudi Arabian royal Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud looks on during a meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake in Colombo

Some, like Prince Alwaleed, maintain their innocence. | Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

“The allegations against Prince Alwaleed were never formally made public, though a senior official said at the time of his detention that he was accused of money laundering, bribery and extortion. The billionaire maintained his innocence in an interview with Reuters before his release, saying all his dealings had been appropriate. The senior official disputed the prince’s account, saying settlements ‘don’t happen unless the accused acknowledges violations and documents that in writing and pledges that he won’t repeat them,'” reported Bloomberg. It’s not highly unlikely that Prince Alwaleed is indeed innocent, as well as other former detainees.

Next: Investors are concerned about the lack of transparency. 

5. How foreign investors are feeling

The Crown Prince pledged a "moderate, open" Saudi Arabia, breaking with ultra-conservative clerics in favour of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth

It’s mostly business as usual. | Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

The detentions obviously raised concerns for foreign investors, especially about the lack of transparency from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who never officially released the names of the suspects.

“Companies of people associated under the anti-corruption crackdown would be under extra scrutiny from investors till such time the findings of such a crackdown are clear,” said Senior Institutional Sales Broker at Securities & Investment Company in Bahrain Kunal Damle. “The positives for the business are that from the face of it, it looks like it is business as usual for the companies.”

Next: Some are questioning whether the punishment was severe enough. 

6. Can Prince Mohammed really put an end to corruption?

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman speak to the media

The prince wanted to send a message. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Young Prince Mohammed organized this detention with the intention of cracking down on corruption. He wanted to start from scratch and send a message. Despite his intentions, some are questioning how things can really change if those who were detained were allowed to return to their normal positions after their time at the Ritz, especially after it wasn’t made totally clear who was guilty and who was innocent.

Next: Saudi officials say the purge should level the playing field with investors.  

7. What Saudi officials think

A Saudi participant speaks during the closing session of the World Economic Forum

Officials in Davos declared the desire to eradicate corruption. | Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images

“Saudi officials attending the World Economic Forum in Davos last week said the purge was designed to level the playing field among investors. They say Prince Mohammed had no choice but to press ahead with the campaign to eradicate corruption if his plan to transform the Saudi economy was to work,” reported Bloomberg. “The attorney general said this is not the end of the anti-corruption drive.”

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