Saudis arrest 11 princes, dozens of ex-ministers in shake-up
Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia has reportedly arrested 11 princes and dozens of former government ministers as it announces a new anti-corruption campaign, further cementing King Salman and his crown prince son’s control of the kingdom.
The arrests late Saturday, as well as the king’s removal of a prominent prince in charge of the National Guard, came as Lebanon’s prime minister, a close Saudi ally, announced his own resignation from the Saudi capital only hours earlier.
The moves further shake up Saudi Arabia and the greater Middle East as regional conflicts still rage around the kingdom. Shiite rebels in Yemen, the target of a 2 ½ year Saudi-led military campaign, fired a ballistic missile toward Riyadh’s international airport on Saturday night.
The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news channel reported the arrests late Saturday of 11 princes and dozens of former ministers.
Al-Arabiya reported that the anti-graft committee is looking into deadly floods that overwhelmed parts of the city of Jiddah in 2009 and the government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed several hundred people in the past few years.
The anti-corruption effort is being headed by the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was named to oversee the new committee.
Al-Arabiya did not name those detained, though rumors circulated into early Sunday that they included some of the most powerful businessmen in the country. A Saudi government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reports also suggested those detained were being held in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which only days earlier hosted a major investment conference. The phone number for the hotel had been disconnected by Sunday morning and a Dubai-based spokeswoman for the hotel chain did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, the kingdom’s top council of clerics issued a statement saying it is an Islamic duty to fight corruption— essentially giving religious backing to the high-level arrests being reported.
The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts. It can also trace funds, prevent the transfer of funds or the liquidation of assets, and take other precautionary measures until cases are referred to the judiciary.
The royal order said the committee was established “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds.”
Saudi nationals have long complained of rampant corruption in government and of public funds being squandered or misused by people in power.
The 32-year-old crown prince has been seeking to attract greater international investments and improve the country’s reputation as a place to do business. It’s part of a larger effort to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil revenue.
“The scale of the arrests goes beyond the allegations of corruption, and are designed to further smooth the eventual succession,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“As a leader who is set to remain in power for decades, Mohammed bin Salman is remaking the kingdom in his own image and signaling a potentially significant move away from the consensual balancing of competing interests that characterized Saudi rule in the past.”
The king also ousted one of the country’s highest-level royals from power, removing Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as head of the National Guard. He was replaced by Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, who had held a senior post with the guard.