200 held in Saudi cor­rup­tion sweep

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Laura King laura.king@la­times.com

Saudi Ara­bian of­fi­cials say more than 200 peo­ple have been sum­moned for ques­tion­ing as part of a bur­geon­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion en­com­pass­ing up to $100 bil­lion in cor­rup­tion-re­lated wrong­do­ing.

A state­ment is­sued Thurs­day by the king­dom’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Saud Mo­jeb, said a to­tal of 208 peo­ple had been called in for ques­tion­ing, with all but seven of them placed in de­ten­tion.

Those caught up in the un­prece­dented crack­down in­clude ty­coons, VIPs and some mem­bers of the Saudi royal fam­ily.

Saudi of­fi­cials have not pub­licly con­firmed the names of the de­tained, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns, but one of the world’s rich­est men, Prince Al­waleed bin Talal, was among those widely re­ported to be in cus­tody in a lux­u­ri­ous Riyadh ho­tel.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­ing spear­headed by the king­dom’s brash crown prince, Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, a son of King Sal­man, Saudi Ara­bia’s monarch. The prince’s anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign broke sharply with a long tra­di­tion of con­sen­sus among se­nior princes un­der­pin­ning most ma­jor steps by the gov­ern­ment.

Al­though graft and bribery on an in­dus­trial scale have long char­ac­ter­ized busi­ness deal­ings in the king­dom, the cor­rup­tion crack­down also is widely viewed as a bid by the crown prince to con­sol­i­date his power.

Es­ti­mates of the amount of money in­volved in the al­leged malfea­sance have var­ied widely, and Mo­jeb’s state­ment marked the first of­fi­cial in­di­ca­tion of the scope of bribery, fraud and other fi­nan­cial crimes, though with­out at­tach­ing a pre­cise time­line.

“We es­ti­mate that at least $100 bil­lion has been mis­used through sys­tem­atic cor­rup­tion and em­bez­zle­ment over sev­eral decades,” said the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s state­ment, which was car­ried by the of­fi­cial Saudi Press Agency.

The Saudi state­ment in­di­cated that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion could broaden in com­ing days.

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