The Star Early Edition

Royal bil­lion­aire, princes held in Saudi Ara­bia graft crack­down

- Abdullah Al-Shihri and Aya Ba­trawy Riyadh

SAUDI Ara­bia has ar­rested dozens of princes, se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, busi­ness­men and top of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing a well­known royal bil­lion­aire with ex­ten­sive hold­ings in West­ern com­pa­nies, in an anti-cor­rup­tion probe that fur­ther ce­ments con­trol in the hands of its young crown prince.

A high-level em­ployee at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s King­dom Hold­ing said the royal – one of the world’s rich­est men – was among those de­tained overnight on Satur­day. The sur­prise ar­rests, re­port­edly also in­clud­ing two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, were hailed by pro-gov­ern­ment me­dia out­lets as the great­est sign yet that Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man is keep­ing his prom­ise to re­form the coun­try, long plagued by al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

Un­touch­able

An­a­lysts have sug­gested the ar­rest of once-un­touch­able mem­bers of the royal fam­ily is the lat­est sign that the crown prince, 32, is mov­ing to quash po­ten­tial ri­vals or crit­ics. The prince’s swift rise to power has un­nerved el­der mem­bers of the rul­ing Al Saud fam­ily, which has long ruled by con­sen­sus, though ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion-mak­ing lies with the monarch.

The king named his son, the crown prince, as head of an anti-cor­rup­tion com­mit­tee es­tab­lished late on Satur­day, hours be­fore the ar­rests.

A Saudi gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said 11 princes and 38 oth­ers are be­ing held in five-star ho­tels across the cap­i­tal, Riyadh.

The scale of the ar­rests is un­prece­dented in Saudi Ara­bia, where se­nior roy­als and their busi­ness as­so­ci­ates were seen as op­er­at­ing above the law. Saudi na­tion­als have long com­plained of ram­pant cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment and of pub­lic funds be­ing squan­dered or mis­used by peo­ple in power.

Shortly be­fore the ar­rests, King Sal­man had ousted Prince Miteb bin Abdullah as head of the Na­tional Guard. The prince is re­port­edly among those de­tained in the sweep, as is his brother, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, once gover­nor of Riyadh. Both are sons of the late King Abdullah, who ruled be­fore his half brother King Sal­man. Prince Miteb was once a con­tender for the throne.

Saudi Twit­ter ac­counts re­leased sev­eral other ar­rests: Al­walid al-Ibrahim, 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, the former fi­nance min­is­ter; and Bakr Bin­ladin, head of the Saudi Bin­ladin Group, a ma­jor busi­ness con­glom­er­ate.

The anti-graft probe opens a new era of ac­count­abil­ity, rule of law and im­proves in­vest­ment cli­mate.

“The dis­missals and de­ten­tions sug­gest that Prince Mo­hammed rather than forg­ing al­liances is ex­tend­ing his iron grip on the rul­ing fam­ily, the mil­i­tary, and the na­tional guard to counter what ap­pears to be more wide­spread op­po­si­tion within the fam­ily as well as the mil­i­tary to his re­forms and the Yemen war,” James M Dorsey, a Gulf spe­cial­ist, said.

Saudi Ara­bia said late on Satur­day it in­ter­cepted a bal­lis­tic mis­sile fired from Yemen at Riyadh In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The crown prince, as de­fence min­is­ter, over­sees the stale­mated war against Yemen’s Iranian-al­lied rebels.

The Fi­nance Min­istry said the anti-cor­rup­tion probe “opens a new era of ac­count­abil­ity”, en­hances the rule of law and im­proves the king­dom’s in­vest­ment cli­mate.

It is not clear what Prince Alwaleed or oth­ers are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for. The Sau­diowned Al-Ara­biya news chan­nel said the anti-cor­rup­tion probe was look­ing into the re­sponse to flood­ing in Jid­dah that killed around 120 peo­ple in 2009 and dev­as­tated the city again in 2011, and the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of a Coron­avirus out­break that killed sev­eral hun­dred in re­cent years.

Prince Alwaleed’s in­vest­ments in­clude Twit­ter, Ap­ple, Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News Corp, Cit­i­group, and the Four Sea­sons, Fair­mont and Moven­pick ho­tel chains.

The king­dom’s top coun­cil of cler­ics said it was an Is­lamic duty to fight cor­rup­tion – es­sen­tially giv­ing re­li­gious back­ing to the ar­rests. A top royal court of­fi­cial, Barr alAsaker, tweeted about a “his­toric and black night against the cor­rupt”. The anti-graft body can is­sue ar­rest war­rants and freeze bank ac­counts.

 ?? PHOTO: AP ?? Saudi bil­lion­aire Prince Al­waleed bin Talal al-Saud was among dozens of ar­rested princes and for­mer govern­ment min­is­ters as part of a sweep­ing anti-cor­rup­tion probe in the coun­rty.
PHOTO: AP Saudi bil­lion­aire Prince Al­waleed bin Talal al-Saud was among dozens of ar­rested princes and for­mer govern­ment min­is­ters as part of a sweep­ing anti-cor­rup­tion probe in the coun­rty.

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