In Saudi Arabia's massive anti-corruption sweep, the vast majority of businessmen and officials implicated have agreed to financial settlements, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has told The New York Times.
The New York Times on Friday quoted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying that 95 percent of the Saudi princes, businessmen and officials implicated in his anti-corruption crackdown "agree to a settlement" when shown "all the files that we have."
"About 1 percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court," the new Saudi strongman told the American newspaper.
The settlements would include signing over cash or shares in their companies to the Saudi Treasury, he added as he repeated a previous official estimate that the government could eventually recover up to $100 billion (€84.4 billion) of illicit money through settlements.
Scores of wealthy Saudi nationals, including members of the royal family, are currently being held in Riyadh's opulent Ritz Carlton hotel as their cases are processed.
The government has said that it questioned 208 people in the crackdown and released seven without charge. Over 2,000 Saudi bank accounts have been frozen during the probe, causing concern that the crackdown could damage the economy.
Rooting out corruption
The confinements at the Ritz Carlton hotel started this month after King Salman formed an anti-corruption commission headed by his heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption at the top," the Crown Prince told the newspaper.
But the arrests, which include Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men, prompted a sell-off in the Arab countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), wiping billions from stock markets in the region.
Prince Mohammed insisted that the companies of detained businessmen would continue operating normally. "We have experts making sure no businesses are bankrupted in the process," he told the Times.
The Saudi leader, however, admitted that it was impossible to root out corruption completely from "top to the bottom," but added that his action was a signal saying "you will not escape."
Saudi business people who paid bribes to get services done by bureaucrats were not being prosecuted, he explained, adding: "It's those who shook the money out of the government" — by overcharging and getting kickbacks.
In the interview, the Saudi crown prince also dismissed as "ludicrous" suggestions that the crackdown aimed to strengthen his political power, noting that prominent people held at the Ritz had already publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms. "A majority of the royal family" was behind him, he said.