Saudi Arabia detains 200 people in $100B fraud probe.
Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday it has detained 201 people as part of a sweeping probe, estimating that at least $100 billion has been misused through embezzlement and corruption in past decades. The move has been seen by some as an effort by the royal family to consolidate power and comes as tensions within the region have skyrocketed over the past week. Here’s what you need to know:
WHAT ’S HAPPENING IN SAUDI ARABIA?
Surprise arrests began overnight Saturday, when 11 princes and 38 officials and businessmen were detained. They are being held at five- star hotels across the country, including the RitzCarlton in Riyadh.
On T hursday, Saudi Arabia announced it has detained 201 people. The kingdom’s Attorney General Saud al- Mojeb said in a statement that 208 people had been called in for questioning since Saturday evening, and that seven people were released without charge, leaving 201 people still in detention.
The figure released by the government is far larger than previously reported as it appears more arrests were made throughout the week.
WHO WAS ARRESTED?
Among those detained are billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, including Prince Miteb who until Saturday had headed the powerful National Guard before he was ousted and detained. Prince Miteb was once a contender for the throne and was believed to be opposed to the king’s 32-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, becoming suc- cessor as crown prince.
An estimated 1,700 bank accounts have been frozen belonging to individuals. AlMojeb confirmed that action was taken to suspend personal bank accounts, but did not disclose any figures. The government has stressed that only personal banks have been frozen, leaving companies and businesses so far untouched.
For years, Saudis have complained of rampant corruption and misuse of public funds by top officials in a system where nepotism is also widespread.
Royal family members have long received undisclosed monthly stipends from state coffers built up during years of higher oil prices. The government, however, has been forced to introduce austerity measures since oil prices fell three years ago, re- ducing subsidies and driving up costs for average Saudi nationals. Still, Saudi observer Thomas Lippmann says he believes the anti- corruption probe is “a power grab” because it targets only select members of the royal family and business community. He says it is also difficult to draw the line between what constitutes corruption in Saudi Arabia and how business deals, contracts and access have been won over the years.
HOW DOES LEBANON ’S PM FIT IN?
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country Saturday when he announced his resignation in a strange, pre-recorded statement from Saudi Arabia. He has not returned to Lebanon since. Following a meeting of his Saudi-aligned Future Party in Beirut Thursday, the party issued a statement saying it was “necessary” for Hariri to return “to restore Lebanon’s dignity and respect.”
The statement read by former prime minister Fuad Saniora seemed to indicate that Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said he will not consider the premier’s resignation until the two meet in person.
Saudi Arabia has in the meantime threatened that it would deal with Lebanon as a hostile state as long as the militant group Hezbollah was in the Lebanese government.
Earlier on Thursday Saudi Arabia also ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon. Kuwait and Bahrain have done the same.
WHER E DOES IRAN FIGURE?
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a surprise trip on Thursday night to Saudi Arabia, saying he wanted to speak to the kingdom’s young, assertive crown prince about Iran and the war in Yemen.
Macron said he made the decision earlier in the morning about heading to Saudi Arabia, in part over Shiite rebels in Yemen launching a ballistic missile that targeted Riyadh, the kingdom’s capital. He bluntly blamed Iran for the attack.
The ballistic missile launched Saturday night flew near Riyadh’s international airport before Saudi officials said they shot it down. By early Monday, the kingdom responded by closing off Yemen’s land, sea and air ports and warning Iran the rebel missile launch could be “considered as an act of war.”
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, right, greets former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh. Hariri’s resignation on Saturday shocked his countrymen.