The Story of Hariri’s Arrest: From the Airport to the Ritz Carlton
As of yesterday there is no more doubt about the fate of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Al-Akhbar learned from sources close to the prime minister that he was placed under house arrest, hours after arriving in Riyadh last Friday. He is still in a separate location from where his family lives. Meanwhile a Saudi team has been charged with his security, as is the case with the detained Saudi princes and ministers.
According to the sources, Hariri was asked to go to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel complex shortly after arriving in Riyadh, to hold meetings in preparation for his transfer to Al-Yamamah Palace to meet King Salman. Upon his arrival at the hotel, he was surprised by the extensive security measures, realizing, minutes later, that he had been arrested. He was taken to one of the villas on the compound, not to the hotel where about 49 princes, ministers and a Saudi businessman were detained. They were also immediately summoned to Riyadh for "business meetings" with the king and the crown prince to undergo an investigation and get arrested over corruption allegations.
According to sources, the Saudi security forces seized the phones in the possession of Hariri and his security team. The members of the security team were given a choice between returning to Beirut or staying. Those leaving the compound would not be able to return to it again. At Hariri's request, four of his escorts, led by Officer Mohammed Diab, went to his home to stay with his wife and children, while the head of Hariri's guard, Abd al-Arab, and one of his aides remained with him in the same villa. Everyone was informed of the rules of residence, which include not being able to move inside the hotel and not being allowed to communicate with the security personnel and employees. They were in touch with a Saudi security officer in a nearby office, where they can go several times a day to check their phones. They are only allowed to use the phones to reply to messages received through applications such as "Watsapp". They were also allowed to make phone calls provided they did not discuss their place of residence and circumstances. If they broke those rules they would be denied further communication.
After meeting with a senior Saudi security official and another meeting with Minister Thamer al-Sbahan, Hariri was handed the resignation statement, which was written by the Royal Court. He was allowed to review it twice before recording. It should be stressed that he could not contact anyone to explain the background of the move. Al-Sabhan informed Hariri that he would explain the situation to those concerned in Beirut and that it should be stressed that the prime minister's aides are forbidden to come to Riyadh - a message that Hariri personally delivered in several letters to his office manager Nader Hariri and several Future Movement officials.
Hariri was then informed that he would be part of an investigation and appear as a witness - not as the Prime Minister of Lebanon but as a Saudi citizen. He was asked about files dating back to the era of Khalid al-Tuwaijri, who was the chief of the Royal Court during the reign of the former King Abdullah. Hariri repeated what he had said several months ago about these files. More specifically he addressed suspicions that he received commissions through a royal gift to Lebanon estimated at one billion dollars, as well as contracts obtained by the Saudi Oger company without committing to the dates of completion of the work, and the fate of large bank loans. Hariri also reiterated that all his property in Saudi Arabia is mortgaged to Saudi banks and that he only owns his home.
After Hariri's request to either hold a press conference or leave Saudi Arabia, his escorts who moved to his family home were told to make up their minds on whether to stay or travel to Lebanon. Some returned home yesterday.
Although everyone in Beirut was stunned by Hariri's resignation, contacts that took place in the next 24 hours prompted those close to him to raise the issue with local and foreign parties. The consensus was to act calmly and to try to secure a safe and decent exit for the prime minister from Saudi Arabia, something President Aoun and Nabih Berri tried to do through mediation with Egypt and Jordan but without achieving results. MP Walid Jumblatt also brokered mediation with the French and British authorities which ended in failure. Even London failed to obtain permission for one of its diplomats in Riyadh to meet Hariri at his residence, while the Americans refused to intervene.
On Monday night, it was revealed that the French mediation had failed and that the Saudi crown prince had insisted that Hariri could not leave Riyadh without a pledge not to change his position. It was suggested that his family would be kept in Riyadh as hostages to prevent him from declaring any political position contrary to what he announced in the resignation statement. Hariri's aides in Beirut did not receive any positive signals even after midnight. His team in Beirut was preoccupied with controlling the actions and statements of the media as well as the political and parliamentary team. It was later revealed that al-Sabhan was inciting these to launch statements denying Hariri's arrest and confirming the content of his resignation statement. It is noteworthy that MP Jumblatt did not receive any exceptional assurances from al-Sabhan, who he communicates with through Minister Wael Abu Faour.
The sources paused at the news of King Salman receiving Hariri at Al Yamamah Palace on Monday, pointing out that Hariri was transferred to the palace by a security team. They also pointed out that the meeting was aimed at sending a signal that he is not on the list of those arrested on charges of corruption and who will not be received by the king or the crown prince. They also added that Hariri's situation will be settled linking it to internal Saudi dossier as well as the Lebanese dossier. Noting that those close to Hariri believe that President Aoun's position and the positions of the Lebanese leaders not to accept the resignation along with the Arab and Western mediation will compel Saudi Arabia to allow Hariri to leave either to France or to Lebanon.
Source: Al-Akhbar Newspaper, Translated by website team