Riyadh pursues major anti-corruption drive

Sunday 12/11/2017
Big news. A Saudi man reads a newspaper in Riyadh, on November 5. (Reuters)

London- Saudi Arabia has launched a crackdown on corrup­tion seeking to hold both average citizens and roy­alty accountable.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal decree No­vember 4 forming an anti-cor­ruption task force to be overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. It has the jurisdiction to “investigate, issue arrest warrants, travel bans and freeze accounts and portfolios,” a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Prominent members of Saudi society, including members of the royal family, former ministers and high-profile businessmen were ar­rested on corruption charges.

The arrests came after a three-year investigation and more ar­rests were expected.

The investigation extended beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders, with what appears to be Riyadh requesting information from the United Arab Emirates. The UAE Central Bank froze bank accounts belonging to 19 Saudis under in­vestigation, a Reuters report stat­ed.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel reported that 11 princes, a dozen former ministers and four current ministers had been de­tained in an anti-graft investiga­tion.

The list of those arrested read like a Who’s Who of Saudi pow­erbrokers and included the head of the kingdom’s National Guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who was removed from his position the same day of his detention; billion­aire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who was held on money launder­ing charges; and Economy Min­ister Adel Fakieh, who was also sacked on the day of his arrest.

“What happened is not the be­ginning but the end of the first phase of our efforts to fight cor­ruption,” said Saud al-Mojeb, the public prosecutor in charge of the anti-corruption investigation, in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

“Anti-corruption laws are al­ready in place and the announce­ment that those individuals were held for questioning is the result of an initial investigation by the anti-corruption task force,” he said, adding that it was necessary to complete the first phase dis­creetly to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings.

Mojeb later stated that more than $100 billion had been misap­propriated in recent decades and that more than 200 individuals had been questioned.

Those under investigation will have their assets frozen, with ef­forts made to return any ill-gotten funds to the state.

There were fears in Saudi busi­ness circles that freezing accounts tied to the investigation would hurt the country’s economy; how­ever Mojeb said that neither busi­ness transactions nor commercial activities would be affected by the investigation.

US President Donald Trump threw his support behind the Saudi anti-corruption initiative, posting on Twitter: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”

“Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!” he added.

According to a study by the US National Bureau of Economic Re­search, quoted by Reuters, Sau­dis have the equivalent of more than 55% of the country’s gross domestic product in foreign tax havens, with total amounts of such accounts estimated to exceed $300 billion.