A senior Saudi prince who once led the country’s national guard was reportedly freed on Tuesday, more than three weeks after he and hundreds of others were arrested on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the son of former King Abdullah, is the highest-profile prince to have been released since a major purge of senior royals and businessmen began on November 4.
Prince Mutaib was arrested on allegations of corruption and is believed to have been imprisoned at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.
The 65-year-old prince was once seen as a contender for the throne and controlled Saudi Arabia’s powerful national guard force, making him a potential rival to Crown Prince Mohammed, who has dramatically consolidated his own power since June.
The crown prince, often referred to by his initials as MBS, ordered Prince Mutaib’s arrest and swiftly replaced him as national guard minister with a little-known prince.
The Saudi government has insisted that the wave of around 200 arrests was part of an anti-corruption drive, rather than a power play to strengthen the hand of MBS.
Prince Mutaib is the first senior prince believed to have been released but there is no clear judicial process for the arrested men and it is possible that less high-profile figures have already been freed.
The arrests have thinned the ranks of potential rivals to MBS and left him as the country’s most powerful figure. His ailing 81-year-old father, King Salman, has already given widespread authority over the country’s military and economic policies.
Prince Mutaib was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding his own companies a $10 billion (£7.6 billion) contract for walkie-talkies and bulletproof gear, according to Reuters.
“Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah al Saud got released today and he’s back to his home in Riyadh,” a spokesman for a senior Saudi princess tweeted.
It is not clear under what terms Prince Mutaib was released. In an interview with the New York Times, Crown Prince Mohammed said that 95 per cent of the accused men had agreed to plea bargains which would see them pay millions to the state treasury. Several royals also appeared to tweet confirmation that he had been freed but there was no official confirmation from the Saudi government.
He said that prosecutors expected to take in “around $100 billion in settlements”.
It is not known if Prince Mutaib paid a settlement. He may also be confined to house arrest upon his release.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayaf, who was the crown prince until he was replaced by MBS in June, was reportedly confined to his palace after being stripped of his post.
A number of high-profile prisoners, including the billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, are still being held in custody.