More Saudis held in cor­rup­tion sweep

Ob­servers say Crown Prince con­sol­i­dat­ing his power

Metro Canada (Edmonton) - - World -

Dozens more peo­ple have been taken into cus­tody by Saudi au­thor­i­ties, the king­dom said Thurs­day, bring­ing to 201 the num­ber de­tained in a sweep that in­ves­ti­ga­tors say has un­cov­ered at least $100 bil­lion US in cor­rup­tion.

Saudi crit­ics and ex­perts have called the un­prece­dented purge of top princes and busi­ness­men a bold and risky move by Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man 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.

The sweep comes at a time of in­creased ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and its main regional ri­val, Iran, over the on­go­ing con­flict and suf­fer­ing in Ye­men and a newly erupt­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Le­banon.

Saudi At­tor­ney Gen­eral Saud al-Mo­jeb said 208 peo­ple had been called in for ques­tion­ing, and that seven were re­leased with­out charge, leav­ing 201 in cus­tody.

The new fig­ure is far larger than what was pre­vi­ously re­ported by the gov­ern­ment, re­flect­ing a con­tin­u­ing se­ries of ar­rests through­out the week. The stun­ning purge be­gan overnight Satur­day, ini­tially catch­ing 11 princes and 38 of­fi­cials, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and busi­ness lead­ers. They are be- ing held at five-star ho­tels, in­clud­ing the Ritz-Carl­ton in Riyadh.

The 32-year-old crown prince, who is the son of King Sal­man and is pop­u­larly known by his ini­tials MBS, is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as head of a newly formed anti-cor­rup­tion com­mit­tee. Among those de­tained are bil­lion­aire Prince Al­waleed bin Talal and two sons of the late King Ab­dul­lah, in­clud­ing Prince Miteb, who un­til Satur­day had headed the pow­er­ful Na­tional Guard. Sev­eral years ago, he was con­sid­ered a con­tender for the Saudi at­tor­ney Gen­eral Saud al-Mo­jeb said 208 peo­ple had been called in for ques­tion­ing, and that seven were re­leased with­out charge, leav­ing 201 in cus­tody. throne and was be­lieved to have op­posed MBS be­com­ing crown prince.

The gov­ern­ment de­clined to iden­tify many of the other in­di­vid­u­als be­ing ques­tioned, say­ing it is re­spect­ing their pri­vacy dur­ing this phase of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

An es­ti­mated 1,700 in­di­vid­ual bank ac­counts have been frozen.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron told jour­nal­ists in the United Arab Emi­rates that he wasn’t mak­ing any judg­ments.

“This is not the role of a pres­i­dent, and sim­i­larly I would not ex­pect a leader of a for­eign coun­try to come and in­fringe on do­mes­tic mat­ters,’’ Macron said. Macron vis­ited Saudi Ara­bia later Thurs­day and met with the crown prince.

SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BAN­DAR AL-JALOUD/AFP/GEttY Im­AGES

Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man re­ceives French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron in the cap­i­tal riyadh on Thurs­day.

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