Riyadh pursues major anti-corruption drive
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.