Saudi authorities have released 23 of the 200 officials and other powerful individuals detained during an anti-corruption campaign. The move came after the detainees agreed to deals with the government, local media reported.
The detainees, who had been held in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, included a serving minister and a former head of a major company, according to the newspaper Okaz. The report, however, did not disclose names.
According to the newspaper, the move appeared to be the first large-scale release since members of the royal family, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, businessmen and government and military officials were detained in November as the result of an anti-corruption crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Earlier, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Saudi government is demanding at least $6 billion from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion, to free him from detention.
According to Okaz, more detainees would be released in the coming days, and trial proceedings would begin soon for those who continue to deny the corruption charges against them.
Riyadh regards the settlements not as blackmail but as an obligation to take back money stolen from the government. In November, the attorney general of Saudi Arabia assessed the economic damage from longtime corruption activities in the kingdom, saying it was "at least $100 billion."