Saudi anti-corruption sweep leads to high-profile arrests
Saudi Arabia’s newly formed anti-corruption committee has arrested at least 17 princes and top officials, according to a list obtained by CNN and cited by a senior royal court official.
The list includes Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire businessman who owns 95% of Kingdom Holding, which holds stakes in global companies such as Citigroup, Twitter, Apple and News Corp.
Reports of his arrest saw $750 million wiped off Prince Alwaleed’s fortune Sunday.
At least 38 former, current, and deputy ministers, have been arrested on accusations of corruption. CNN has obtained the names of 17 people on the list including formal head of the royal court Khaled Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi media mogul Waleed Al-Ibrahim and Prince Turki bin Nasser.
Badr Asaker, the bureau manager of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, tweeted the list of arrested businessmen, princes and officials early Sunday. The list was also independently obtained by CNN.
In addition, three ministers were removed from their positions, and tens of former ministers were detained as part of the new anti-corruption campaign initiated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, according to Saudi-backed broadcaster Al-Arabiya.
King Salman ordered the new anti-corruption initiative as part of an “active reform agenda aimed at tackling a persistent problem that has hindered development efforts in the Kingdom in recent decades,” a press release from the Saudi Ministry of Communications said.
According to Saudi TV, the three ministers removed from their posts were Economy and Planning Minister Adel bin Mohammed Faqih, National Guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Naval Forces Commander Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan.
The royal decree said the committee was needed “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds” and will “trace and combat corruption at all levels,” according to the release.
The three ousted ministers were replaced with Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf Al Muqren becoming National Guard minister, Mohammed bin Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri becoming the Economy and Planning Minister, and Vice Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghifaili taking on the role of Naval Forces Commander.
The committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has the authority to investigate, arrest, issue travel bans and freeze the assets of those it finds corrupt.
The 32-year-old has long been a prominent figure in Saudi politics, seen as a key power player behind the king and a reformer by Saudi standards.
Since his appointment, some restrictions on women have been eased and last month, Mohammed bin Salman vowed to destroy “extremist ideologies” in a bid to return to “a more moderate Islam.”
John Defterios, CNN’s Emerging Markets Editor who has covered Saudi Arabia since the 1990s, said the sweep was part of the Crown Prince’s “top to bottom overhaul.”
“From literally his Vision 2030 plan, to social reforms with women driving, and as we see now the third leg of it, an aggressive push to root out corruption,” he said.
Defterios said there had long been concerns about corruption within Saudi Arabia.
“The correction in oil prices has changed the game they cannot afford to go business as usual as they have for the past 20 years,” he said.
“That’s the reason why they want to diversify the economy and also make a bold attempt to root out corruption.”
‘New world order’
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, said the world was witnessing the “birth of a new order in Saudi Arabia.”
“The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is not only consolidating his power but also laying out his vision for the kingdom and putting his vision into practice,” he said.
“Many people in the past two or three years have underestimated the ability of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, not only to consolidate his power but to structure state and the economy.
“Everything which has been happening in the past year or so in Saudi Arabia tells me that Mohammed bin Salman is putting his ideas into practice and cracking down not only on opposition figures, but trying to prevent, as he said a few days ago, the bleeding of the economy and the migration of resources from Saudi Arabia into other countries.
“Saudi Arabia is going under a major, major transition. It’s going to take a while for this new order to become established and clear.”