The power struggle behind Saudi night of the long knives
Arrests of princes and ministers in corruption purge aims to secure heir’s claim and start shift away from oil, writes Andy Critchlow
There is a sense of fear and hope in Saudi Arabia after the arrests of dozens of princes and government ministers in an unprecedented corruption crackdown. It is hoped that the purge, which has been described as a “night of the long knives”, will sweep away the old guard of royals accused of cronyism and blamed for draining wealth from the world’s largest oil producer for generations. But handing a younger leadership free-rein to push through broader economic and social reforms also brings with it giant risks in the traditionally conservative kingdom.
For the billionaire royals and once powerful technocrats currently being held in the luxurious temporary prison of Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel the future seems bleak despite the opulence of their surroundings. According to the Saudi Attorney General’s office, more than 200 officials were seized and questioned last weekend. Those being held include members of the upper ranks of the kingdom’s Al-saud nobility. Their bank accounts were frozen as the state moved quickly to begin clawing back billions it alleges has been siphoned out of state coffers.
“The evidence of this wrongdoing is very strong and confirms the original suspicions that led the Saudi Arabian authorities to begin the investigation into these suspects in the first place,” said Sheikh Saud Al-mojeb, the kingdom’s top prosecutor. “The potential scale of corrupt practices that have been uncovered is very large. Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least $100bn (£75.6bn) has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.”
More arrests are expected following the first phase of the investigation and overseas banks in the region have