Saudi Arabia ends 15-month campaign against corruption

Saudi authorities on January 29 announced the suspension of 126 local government employees across the kingdom on corruption charges.
Sunday 03/02/2019
Running battle. Cars drive past the Kingdom Centre Tower in Riyadh.  (Reuters)
Running battle. Cars drive past the Kingdom Centre Tower in Riyadh. (Reuters)

LONDON - Saudi Arabia has ended its lengthy, high-profile anti-corruption campaign, which resulted in $106 billion in settlements from members of the royal family, former government officials and businessmen.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the anti-corruption committee, submitted a final committee report January 30 to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

A statement from the court said settlements had been reached with 87 individuals after “their confession to the charges against them and their subsequent agreement to settlements.”

However, 56 individuals with unresolved criminal charges were not given the opportunity to settle their cases. The statement said eight people refused to settle “despite the existence of evidence against them.” They have been referred to the public prosecutor.

“The kingdom will continue its efforts to preserve integrity, combat corruption and empower law enforcement and other relevant state bodies so that they are able to effectively practice their role in preserving public funds,” King Salman said in the statement.

Saudi authorities on January 29 announced the suspension of 126 local government employees across the kingdom on corruption charges.

“They are charged with involvement in a number of cases including financial and managerial corruption, abuse of power as well as other legal and criminal violations,” the Saudi Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs said on Twitter.

In the weeks before the announced end of the anti-corruption campaign, high-profile individuals, including Ethiopia-born Saudi tycoon Mohammed al-Amoudi, were released from detention.

The release of Amoudi, who was estimated in 2017 by Forbes to be worth $8.3 billion, was discussion by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Crown Prince Mohammed last May.

In January, Bakr bin Laden, former chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group, was released to attend a funeral in Jeddah. “He is out but we’re not sure if it’s for good or not,” an anonymous source told Thomson Reuters.

Senior Saudi Binladin Group executives Saleh and Saad bin Laden had been detained for several weeks but were released after all three men transferred their combined 36.2% stake in the company to Saudi Arabia last April.

Other high-profile detainees released in recent weeks include former McKinsey and Company partner Hani Khoja, former managing director of the Savola Group Sami Baroum and former governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority Amr al-Dabbagh.

In November 2017, Saudi officials made public the biggest anti-corruption investigation in its history, targeting individuals once believed untouchable, including current and former government officials, billionaire businessmen and members of the royal family.

King Salman issued a royal decree November 4, 2017, forming an anti-corruption task force to “investigate, issue arrest warrants, travel bans and freeze accounts and portfolios,” a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said.

The arrests came after a 3-year investigation resulted in the detention at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel of 11 princes, a dozen former ministers and four current ministers, including the former head of the kingdom’s National Guard Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, former Economy Minister Adel Fakieh and billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. Prince Mutaib and Prince Al-Waleed have been freed since then.

In a May 2017 interview with Al Arabiya TV, Crown Prince Mohammed said King Salman was not satisfied with efforts against corruption and made a goal tackling it the day he became king.

“He was also not satisfied with the role this (corruption) committee has played. If fighting corruption is not on the top of the agenda, it means the fight is not succeeding,” the crown prince said. “No person involved in corruption will survive, whether it is a prince or a minister or whoever.”