What life is like inside Saudi Arabia’s ‘5-star prison’ — the Ritz-Carlton where some of the kingdom’s richest and most powerful elites are being held

The BBC's Lyse Doucet and Philip Goodwin were allowed to enter the Ritz-Carlton in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, under police escort.

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The BBC’s Lyse Doucet and Philip Goodwin were allowed to enter the Ritz-Carlton in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, under police escort.
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BBC

More than 200 members of Saudi Arabia’s elite, including 11 princes, are now being detained at what is quite literally a gilded prison: the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital, Riyadh.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely seen as the muscle behind the recent anti-corruption purge as he consolidates power in a way Saudi Arabia hasn’t seen in decades.

In a new report, the BBC reporter Lyse Doucet and camera operator Philip Goodwin described the atmosphere at the luxury hotel as “very serious.”

Doucet and Goodwin, the first journalists allowed into the hotel since the purge, were under police escort and held to strict rules not to film anyone’s face or quote anyone by name.

Here’s a glimpse of what life in what Doucet called a “five-star prison” is like for its inhabitants.


Lyse Doucet and Philip Goodwin were the first journalists allowed into the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton since it the Saudi government started using it to detain officials and others detained in an anti-corruption purge earlier this month.

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BBC

Since November 4, no one has been allowed into the Ritz-Carlton without official permission.

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BBC

Among the “guests” now are more than 200 people accused of abuse of power, corruption, and money laundering. The Saudi government is also putting up hundreds of experts to process the cases 24/7.

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bbc

Though the reporters were allowed in only during the dead of night, they saw small groups of men speaking in hushed voices. The mood was very serious and very somber, the reporters said.

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BBC

There are reportedly 1,900 Saudi bank accounts totaling $800 billion frozen in the kingdom. “Even if we get 100 billion back, that would be good,” an official told Doucet.

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BBC

Officials said 4% of the accused say they will take their cases to court, but 95% are willing to make a deal, which would most likely result in large sums of money exchanged for freedom.

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BBC

The hotel was mostly empty. “I’m spending most of my time in my room with my lawyer focusing on my case,” one detainee told Doucet.

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BBC

Here’s what the hotel looks like from the outside.

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Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

President Donald Trump stayed at the Ritz-Carlton during his trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this year — and the kingdom put his face on the side of the hotel.

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REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst