Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as contender to throne, freed

Image: Saudi Arabian Prince Miteb bin Abdullah
Saudi Arabian Prince Miteb bin Abdullah Philippe Wojazer / Reuters file

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By F. Brinley Bruton

A prince once considered a contender to Saudi Arabia's throne has been freed after being detained for weeks as part of a widespread crackdown on corruption, a senior member of the royal family told NBC News on Wednesday.

Miteb bin Abdullah, 65, was let go after agreeing to pay more than $1 billion to settle corruption allegations against him, Reuters reported earlier. The news agency cited an unnamed Saudi official involved in the crackdown. NBC News was not able to independently verify the report. Saudi officials were not immediately available for comment.

Saudi Arabian Prince Miteb bin Abdullah Philippe Wojazer / Reuters file

Miteb was released Tuesday, a cousin of the prince told NBC News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

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Miteb, the former head of the elite National Guard and son of the late King Abdullah, was one of dozens of members of the royal family, senior officials and top businessmen to be rounded up this month. The arrests have strengthened the position of already powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"It is understood that [Miteb's] settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases," the official told Reuters, without giving details.

A second source close to the investigation said that the rest of the some 200 detainees — many of whom were being held in Riyadh's luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital, Riyadh — would be released in the coming days.

Saudi authorities who this month estimated that they could eventually recover around $100 billion have been asking detainees to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

According to the Reuters source, Miteb was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own firms, including a deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear.

While many Saudis were tired of widespread corruption and welcomed the arrests, the crackdown has also been interpreted as power grab by the crown prince, who is pushing deep political, social and economic changes in the conservative Gulf kingdom.

NBC News and Reuters contributed.