Saudi ar­rests of princes con­sol­i­dates an­other’s power grab

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Among those taken into cus­tody overnight Satur­day in the pur­ported anti-cor­rup­tion sweep were bil­lion­aire Prince Al­waleed bin Talal, one of the world’s rich­est men with ex­ten­sive hold­ings in Western com­pa­nies, as well as two of the late King Ab­dul­lah’s sons.

The ar­rest of se­nior princes up­ends a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion among the rul­ing Al Saud fam­ily to keep their dis­agree­ments pri­vate in an ef­fort to show strength and unity in the face of Saudi Ara­bia’s many tribes and fac­tions. It also sends a mes­sage that the 32-yearold crown prince, Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, has the full back­ing of his fa­ther, King Sal­man, to carry out sweep­ing an­ti­cor­rup­tion re­forms tar­get­ing se­nior roy­als and their busi­ness as­so­ci­ates, who have long been seen as op­er­at­ing above the law.

Re­ports sug­gested those de­tained were be­ing held at the Ritz Carl­ton in Riyadh, which only days ear­lier hosted a ma­jor in­vest­ment con­fer­ence that the crown prince at­tended with global busi­ness ti­tans. A Saudi of­fi­cial told The As­so­ci­ated Press that other five-star ho­tels across the cap­i­tal were also be­ing used to hold some of those ar­rested.

The Ritz Carl­ton had no avail­abil­ity for book­ings un­til Dec. 1, 2017 — a pos­si­ble sign that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this scale could take weeks. Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional said in a state­ment that it is cur­rently eval­u­at­ing the sit­u­a­tion at the Ritz-Carl­ton in Riyadh, but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns.

A Saudi gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial with close ties to se­cu­rity forces said 11 princes and 38 oth­ers were be­ing ques­tioned. The of­fi­cial spoke to the AP on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak to the me­dia.

The sur­prise ar­rests were im­me­di­ately hailed by pro-gov­ern­ment me­dia out­lets as the clear­est sign yet that Prince Mo­hammed is keep­ing his prom­ise to re­form the coun­try, wean its econ­omy from its de­pen­dence on oil and lib­er­al­ize some as­pects of the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety.

The king­dom’s top coun­cil of cler­ics is­sued a pub­lic state­ment overnight say­ing it is an Is­lamic duty to fight cor­rup­tion — es­sen­tially giv­ing re­li­gious back­ing to the high-level ar­rests.

It’s un­clear if the U.S. had any ad­vance word of the ar­rests. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s son-in-law and White House ad­viser Jared Kush­ner and oth­ers made an unan­nounced trip re­cently to Riyadh. Ear­lier on Satur­day, Trump said he spoke to King Sal­man, though the White House read­out of that call did not in­clude any ref­er­ence to the im­pend­ing ar­rests.

The Saudi gov­ern­ment says the ar­rests are part of a wider ef­fort to in­crease trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and good gov­er­nance — key re­forms needed to at­tract greater in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ments and ap­pease a Saudi pub­lic that has for decades com­plained of ram­pant gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion and mis­use of pub­lic funds by top of­fi­cials. Sur­prise moves re­shap­ing the king­dom, how­ever, are likely to worry in­vestors.

Among those re­port­edly taken into cus­tody were two sons of the late King Ab­dul­lah: Prince Miteb bin Ab­dul­lah, who Satur­day evening was ousted from his post as head of the pres­ti­gious Na­tional Guard tasked with pro­tect­ing the Al Saud fam­ily, and Prince Turki bin Ab­dul­lah, who was once gov­er­nor of Riyadh.

Prince Miteb was once con­sid­ered a con­tender for the throne, though he has not been thought of re­cently as a chal­lenger to Prince Mo­hammed.

Saudi Twit­ter ac­counts re­leased sev­eral other names of those ar­rested, in­clud­ing Al­walid alIbrahim, a Saudi busi­ness­man with ties to the royal fam­ily who runs the Ara­bic satel­lite group MBC; Amr al-Dabbagh, the for­mer head of the Saudi Ara­bian Gen­eral In­vest­ment Au­thor­ity; Ibrahim As­saf, a for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter, and Bakr Bin­ladin, head of the Saudi Bin­ladin Group, a ma­jor busi­ness con­glom­er­ate.

An­a­lysts have sug­gested the ar­rest of once-un­touch­able mem­bers of the royal fam­ily is a clear sign that the crown prince is sidelin­ing po­ten­tial ri­vals for the throne.

Mean­while, the Sau­diowned, Dubai-based satel­lite news chan­nel AlAra­biya re­ported that a he­li­copter crash Sun­day in the king­dom’s south killed Prince Man­sour bin Murquin and seven oth­ers. Prince Man­sour was the son of Prince Muqrin bin Ab­du­laziz, a for­mer in­tel­li­gence direc­tor and a one­time crown prince of the king­dom. Author­i­ties gave no cause for the crash.

The young Crown Prince Mo­hammed has risen from near ob­scu­rity to be­come Saudi Ara­bia’s most talked about and pow­er­ful prince in less than three years since his fa­ther as­cended to the throne. The prince’s swift rise to power has un­nerved more ex­pe­ri­enced, el­der mem­bers of the royal fam­ily, which has long ruled by con­sen­sus, though ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion­mak­ing re­mains with the monarch.

The moves in Saudi Ara­bia mir­ror those in China, where Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has used cor­rup­tion charges “as a bat­ter­ing ram to con­sol­i­date his own power and au­thor­ity,” said John Hannah, the se­nior coun­selor at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, an Iran-skep­tic think tank in Wash­ing­ton whose hawk­ish geopo­lit­i­cal views of­ten co­in­cide with the king­dom’s.

Hannah said Prince Mo­hammed has “latched onto cor­rup­tion as a way to con­sol­i­date his power and re­make the regime in his im­age,” purg­ing those who might be re­sis­tant.

It is not clear what Prince Al­waleed or the oth­ers were be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for.

With­out nam­ing those ar­rested, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s of­fice said “the sus­pects are be­ing granted the same rights and treat­ment as any other Saudi cit­i­zen.” The state­ment did not dis­close spe­cific de­tails about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but stressed that no as­sets have yet been frozen and that in­di­vid­u­als are pre­sumed in­no­cent un­til proven guilty.

A high-level em­ployee at Prince Al­waleed bin Talal’s King­dom Hold­ing Co. told the AP that the royal was among those de­tained. The se­nior em­ployee, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity due to fear of reper­cus­sions, said se­cu­rity bod­ies in­formed him of the ar­rest.

Prince Al­waleed’s many in­vest­ments in­clude Twit­ter, Ap­ple, Cit­i­group, and the Four Sea­sons ho­tel chain. He is also an in­vestor in ride-shar­ing ser­vices Lyft and Ca­reem. He was once a sig­nif­i­cant share­holder in Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News Cor­po­ra­tion, but sold much of those shares in 2015.

The prince, pic­tured some­times on his 85-me­ter (278-foot) su­per-yacht in the Mediter­ranean, is among the most out­spo­ken Saudi roy­als and a long­time ad­vo­cate of women’s rights. He is also ma­jor­ity owner of the pop­u­lar Rotana Group of Ara­bic chan­nels.

Af­ter word of his ar­rest, his com­pany’s stock dropped 7.6 per­cent in trad­ing Sun­day on the Saudi stock ex­change.

IYADH, Saudi Ara­bia (AP) — Saudi Ara­bia’s heir to the throne is over­see­ing an un­prece­dented wave of ar­rests of dozens of the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful princes, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, in­flu­en­tial busi­ness­men and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters — some po­ten­tial ri­vals or crit­ics of the crown prince now con­sol­i­dat­ing his power.

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