Saudi Arabia Commandeered the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh for Use as a Prison

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has made a bold move to consolidate power, arresting senior princes, the wealthy, and former government leaders under the banner of a new anti-corruption campaign.

The group that was arrested included Prince al-Waleed bin Talal who is the largest individual shareholder in Citigroup, the second largest shareholder in 21st Century Fox, and owner of the Four Seasons George V in Paris. He owns a stake in Twitter as well.

Entrenched interests almost always have an element of corruption. And those seeking to consolidate power (and clearly in this case also wealth) almost always claim their opponents are corrupt.

As part of a simultaneous reshuffle of the Saudi cabinet, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and Adel Fakeih were removed as, respectively, head of the national guard (the kingdom’s tribally based fighting force) and economy minister. The removal of Prince Miteb shores up Prince Mohammed’s control over the three-pronged security apparatus. He has been defence minister since his father assumed the throne in 2015. In June he removed his elder cousin’s control of domestic security when he replaced him as crown prince.

Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, Credit: Ritz-Carlton

The high profile prisoners are being held inside a maximum security faciltiy the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh — where just two weeks ago the Crown Prince declared “his country needed to move to a more just, open and moderate Islamic society.” Yet the moves were made without regard to notions of due process.

All guests on property were unilaterally kicked out, reservations dishonored.

The hotel is not taking reservations until December 1. There’s no word on whether anyone received compensation, although the letter to guests on property doesn’t suggest that they would.

Any elite member on property should be a hotel night at another property and compensation up to 140,000 (for Platinums) although presumably having the hotel commandeered by the government for use as a prison constitutes a force majeure event which obviates the ‘ultimate reservation guarantee’.

(HT: JT Genter)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The Saudis are consolidating power? That’s rather simplistic. And probably wrong. Sounds like they’re going after corrupt officials.

    Stay in your lane, Gary.

  2. @Brian Are you a professional political analyst? Do you live in Saudi Arabia? Why is Gary wrong to get out of his lane, but as an commenter, you think you’re permitted to enter into any lane? Stop.

  3. Gee, I’ve never seen an anti-corruption drive used as cover for sidelining political opponents (cough…China…cough…Russia…cough).

    Also, the indignity of it all — putting Alwaleed in a Ritz-Carlton when he owns 47.5 percent of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (and a big chunk of Accor after the sale of FRHI).

    Note the marketing on Ritz-Carlton’s web site for this hotel: “A RETREAT FOR THOSE WHO SIMPLY DESIRE THE ROYAL TREATMENT.” Indeed.

  4. Like @Jack said: “Gee, I’ve never seen an anti-corruption drive used as cover for sidelining political opponents (cough…China…cough…Russia…cough).”


    The prior status quo in Saudi Arabia was pretty execrable, but this consolidation of power could go off the tracks in all sorts of dangerous, destabilizing ways.

  5. Where there are extremely rich men, there is always corruption everywhere. It can be overlooked or prosecuted depending on desired political goals. It’s a favorite Putin tactic in Russia. And I wonder who here admires Putin?

  6. I don’t claim to be a Saudi expert, but I do find it amusing that they’ve detained their political prisoners at the Ritz. Certainly the “gentlemanly” thing to do, I suppose. Hard to say if, long term, this is a good sign or a bad sign for the prisoners. In the short term, I think I’d rather be detained at the Ritz than at any prison anywhere in the world.

  7. At this point, much better than John McCain’s stay at the Hanoi Hilton :/
    As for Brian, unless your last name is Al Saud, you are free to stand down :p

  8. Do these royal “guests” get complimentary WiFi and Internet access during their stay at the Ritz? (If so, hope they have a good VPN.) Or are they on a “one 5-minute phone call per day” type of restriction? But hey, the poolside spa!

    In ‘Game of Thrones’, there are the internal family dynamics and machinations of House Lannister. In the Middle East, it is the House of Saud that’s playing GoT.

  9. I have family that live in Saudi Arabia, as of 11/1/ they’re unable to secure a mortgage in the US due to all this mess (so their offer on a home fell through). It’s a total mess over there.

  10. The USA better denounce this pretty quickly or else I’ll start to think they pre-approved this “consolidation.” I would have put Waleed as one of those realatively untouchable friends of USA till now. This was a bold move.

  11. USA arrests campaign officials in an Anti-collusion drive. Its Democracy at work.

    Saudi arrests officials in an Anti-corruption drive. Its consolidation of power.

    Note to Americans. There were 2 palace coups this week.

  12. @ Prabuddha- did not realize that the Saudis convened a Grand Jury, presented evidence and got a indictment to prosecute Waleed. What are your sources? They were able to hear the charges, place a plea, and go home, unlike the Saudis locked up at the Ritz…

    Pretty much a false equivalence.

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