TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Saudi royalty and billionaires are being strung up by their feet and beaten by American private security contractors, according to insider reports.

It comes after the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh was commandeered to house almost 50 Saudi royals and dignitaries arrested earlier this month by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s so-called anti-corruption committee. 

The group of detainees reportedly includes military officials and government ministers as well as 11 princes — among them Prince Alwaleed bin Talal whose $US10 billion fortune makes him the 10th richest man on the planet.

Construction tycoon Bakr Bin Laden, billionaire Saleh Kamal and Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the influential Arab satellite network MBC, are also believed to be in detention at the hotel.

A source said that the group has since been subjected to “interrogations” carried out by “American mercenaries” brought in to work for the Crown Prince, 32, who is now the kingdom’s most powerful figure.

“They are beating them, torturing them, slapping them, insulting them. They want to break them down,” the source told the Daily Mail.

According to the report, ‘Blackwater’ was the security firm involved. But the organization’s successor, Academi, strongly denied even being in Saudi Arabia and said it does not engage in torture, which is illegal for US citizens to commit anywhere in the world.

“We do not provide security services in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), we have no contact or connection with any government official or private party regarding this allegation,” the company said.

Since the first week of November, some 201 people have been taken into custody by Saudi authorities in a sweep that investigators say has uncovered at least $100 billion in corruption. The detainees include cabinet ministers, members of the royal family and the owners of three TV networks that are among the largest in the Middle East.

The crackdown that began on November 4, initially targeted 11 princes, 38 officials, military officers as well as business leaders. An estimated 1700 individual bank accounts have been frozen.

They have been held in lavish hotels across the country as the crown prince leads an investigation of a newly formed anti-corruption committee.

Pictures obtained by the Mail Online purport to show dozens of people held in the function room of the Ritz Carlton hotel. The source claimed the Crown Prince has hired private contractors rather than rely on Saudi officers who may have split loyalties.

“He (Mohammad Bin Salman) speaks to them very nicely in the interrogation, and then he leaves the room, and the mercenaries go in. The prisoners are slapped, insulted, hung up, tortured.”

The comments come following fears the lack of a legal defense for those being held amounts to “nothing other than a shakedown,” according to human rights watchers.

Crown Prince Mohammed‘s anti-corruption campaign was believed to have been partly designed to win back what Lebanon-based businessmen lost in enterprises through dealings with members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

But the move has been met with skepticism by many. With dozens of powerful princes, business leaders and government officials in custody, there is speculation the crackdown is more about consolidating power than curbing corruption.

Others speculate the move amounts to a shakedown of wealthy players for their assets as the Crown Prince tries to implement sensitive economic reforms in the face of lower oil prices.

Either way, many in the kingdom welcome efforts to fight rampant corruption and abuse of power, and many outside it hope the move will encourage people to invest in the kingdom without fear.

Saudi critics and experts have called the unprecedented purge of top princes and businessmen by the Crown Prince a bold and risky move aimed at consolidating power as he keeps an eye on the throne, sidelining potential rivals and dismantling alliances built with other branches of the royal family.

Pierre Daher, who founded the first private TV station in Lebanon in 1985 and turned it into one of the top media outlets in the Arab world, has been locked in court cases with detained Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, since 2011.

The prince, whose maternal grandfather Riad Solh was once Lebanon’s prime minister and also holds Lebanese citizenship, has investments including Twitter, Apple, Citigroup and the Four Seasons hotel chain.

Their court battles are over Lebanon’s leading LBC and the affiliated Production and Acquisition Company, widely known as PAC, which filed for liquidation in 2012. Some 400 PAC employees lost their jobs and are still waiting for Prince Alwaleed to compensate them.

Prince Alwaleed and Daher, now chairman and CEO of LBC, were once allies when the prince pumped money into LBC TV before the two split over several issues and Mr Daher was removed from his job as head of PAC.

Prince Alwaleed ended up taking over the LBC SAT and PAC while Daher took LBC.

“The disgraceful behavior of Alwaleed by making the company (PAC) bankrupt fraudulently while it was not bankrupt and had assets. PAC was able to continue normally but he mechanically made up bankruptcy,” said Daher in his LBC office in the posh town of Adma north of Beirut.

Several cases between the two are still ongoing in countries including Lebanon, Britain and the Cayman Islands. Daher says that he is suing Prince Alwaleed for more than $100 million and is optimistic he will win.

Lebanese media outlets reported this month that two Beirut hotels owned by Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding are for sale. The Four Seasons and Movenpick Hotel are among Beirut’s most luxurious hotels and are located in two of the capital’s most posh neighborhoods.

“If the hotels are not in the person’s name, not in the name of the defendant himself in person, you cannot garnish them since they belong to a company,” said Paul Morcos, legal expert and founder and owner of Justicia Consulting Law firm in Beirut.

Morcos added the prosecution that is done in Saudi Arabia did not directly affect a prosecution taking place in Lebanon.

Attempts to reach a representative of Prince Alwaleed at Kingdom Holding were not immediately successful.