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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed keeps elites jailed a year after the Ritz-Carlton detentions

Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud, seen here as guests to pay tribute to the late King Abdullah in 2015, is among an unknown number of Saudis detained by order from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Dmitry Astakhov / AFP / Getty Images)

– Somewhere in this kingdom, Prince Turki bin Abdullah is locked away.

Turki, 47, what once a golden scion of Saudi Arabia's gilded royal family, a prominent son of former King Abdullah and a fighter pilot with advanced degrees who trained in the United States and Britain. He was the powerful governor of Riyadh province, then chief executive of the multibillion-dollar King Abdullah Foundation, which funds charitable work around the world.

Rihadh's posh Ritz-Carlton hotel in a 5-star called an anti-corruption sweep.

Prince Turki, who has been reportedly accused of construction of the Riyadh subway, remains detained without any formal charges. His chief of staff, Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, so what arrested and died in the process?

Early this year, the Saudi attorney general said, "We're getting the money back, some of the subject of criminal investigations, with more than $ 106 billion in cash, real estate, businesses, securities and other assets recovered in the Ritz operation.

Mohammed said in interview last month with Bloomberg only eight men were still detained. He offered no other details, except to say, "They are with their lawyers and facing the system that we have in Saudi Arabia."

Ritz detainees still locked up.

Prince Khaled bin Talal, 56, is cousin of Mohammed and Prince Turki. Khaled is a businessman and noted religious conservative who reportedly opposed the crown prince's decision to strip power from the country's notorious religious police.

Human rights activists and other analysts said Mohammed may be preparing to release more of the details of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Oct. 2. Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the hands of Saudi agents has strained relations with Washington and Europe and drew attention to the crown of Prince's human rights practices, including his record of locking up scores of his critics.

Yahya Assiri, a Saudi human rights activist living in self-exile in London, said, "They are not willing to do it, but they are under pressure," he said.

But he cautioned against overstating the importance of the release of Prince Khaled, King Mohamed, King Salman, are under stress ,

Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch who closely monitors the kingdom, says "I think this is trying to show family unity in the face of scrutiny."

Mohammed's roundup of wealthy Saudis a year ago helped cement his control over many of the country's most powerful individuals and neutralized potential political rivals within the royal family.

"It's about money and power," said a person close to the Saudi royal family. "Muhammad bin Salman understands that if you take away their money, you take away their power."

Faced with long detentions or other punishment, some of the Ritz detainees agreed to hand over the demanded cash, which is often to their net worth, according to accounts from family, friends and human rights groups.

Many Saudis and foreign observers have applauded Mohammed for what they see as a long-overdue reckoning for the clubby culture of royals and well-connected families, who have long treated Saudi Arabia's land, oil and riches as their own.

But others see the detentions – and reports of torture and at the Ritz – as a brutal move by Mohammed to settle scores and solidify his personal power. Critics say that it fits with its record of arresting scores of human rights and women's right activists and even clerics who disagree with his policies.

Saudi officials strongly deny anyone has been tortured: "That's not who we are," one official said. "We do not torture. That word has never been in our vocabulary in Saudi Arabia. "

Ongoing pension

King Abdullah in particular. Mohammed's rapid rise to power has become a mystery.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, third right, praying with his brother Prince Sattam bin Abdel Aziz in 2013. (Saudi Press Agency / AP)

Prince Turki in recent years has grown to be involved in the signs of Mohammed's accumulation of power, especially in the Ministry of Interior of his Investigation Unit the royal family.

In addition to jailing Prince Turki, Mohammed arrested three of Abdullah's other sons, including Prince Muteib bin Abdullah, 65, head of the National Guard, who was fired from his job. Two other sons, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, 40, a former head of the Saudi Arabia Red Crescent Society, and Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, a former governor of Mecca province, were recently detained after the death of Qahtani, 55, who had been "in the peak of health," when he was arrested, according to the person close to the royal family.

So, two months after the initial Ritz roundup was Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz bin Salman, 36, who is married to King Abdullah. His father was arrested, and the two remain in detention with no formal charges filed, according to his lawyer.

Mohammed's focus on Abdullah's family seems to be about $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion.

Salman, while still governor of Riyadh province, began grooming his son for leadership roles, naming him as a top adviser while Mohammed was still in his early twenties. When Salman became crown prince in 2011, serving as defense minister, Mohammed was again installed as a top adviser.

At the time, King Abdullah was worried about Mohammed's rapid ascent, according to a former Western diplomat with decades of experience in Riyadh. "King Abdullah was worried about what was going on," the diplomat said.

About a month ago, Mohammed drew King Abdullah's Mohammed's stock market investments, prompting the royal court to "censure" Mohammed, according to a close to the royal family.

Later, Mohammed again approached King Abdullah by firing a series of papers in the defense ministry, that person said. Abdullah moved to ban Mohammed from the ministry.

The resentments ran both ways. Salman as Riyadh Governor, the diplomat said. Salman had been the governor's post since 1963 and wanted to keep it in his family line, the diplomat said.

Treated as criminals

According to numerous media reports, some of the detainees are being held in a hair-high security prison south of Riyadh. Others are reportedly locked in private homes and are tracked with ankle monitors.

Those being detained, according to media reports and accounts from family members, friends and others close to the royal family, include:

-Adel Fakeih, 59, former mayor of Jiddah and former minister of economy and planning.

-Walidai Fitaihi, 54, a prominent physician who hosted a popular television show dealing with health and wellness, founded a hospital in Jiddah and holds American citizenship.

-Amr al-Dabbagh, 52, Chairman of the Jiddah-based Al-Dabbagh Group and former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, one of the top economic positions in the country

– Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi, 72, a Saudi Ethiopian businessman who had a net worth of $ 8.1 billion in the last year of his business dealings in a Swedish oil refinery, Saudi gas stations and Ethiopian conglomerate involved in gold mining, farming and construction, according to Forbes.

-Bakr bin Laden, Jiddah-based chairman of the powerful Saudi Binladin Group, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, has been one of country's most successful and influential companies.

Beyond any bad blood between the Salman and Abdullah wings of the royal family or effort to bring wealthy sudis to heel, some observers so see historic regional rivalries at play in the detentions, noting those locked up in disproportionately from the Hijaz region on the Red Sea, including Jiddah and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

"These are the families that helped Abdul Aziz unify and build the country in the 1920s and 30s," said Robert Lacey, a British historian who has written extensively on Saudi Arabia and the royal family. "Now they are treated as criminals."

Fahim reported from Istanbul.


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