First Published: 2017-11-09

Saudi Arabia says 201 people held in anti-graft swoop
Princes, ministers and a billionaire business tycoon were among dozens of high-profile figures arrested or sacked in Saudi Arabia.
Middle East Online

Man walks past posters depicting King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia said Thursday 201 people are being held for questioning over an estimated $100 billion in embezzlement and corruption, after the biggest purge of the kingdom's elite in its modern history.

Princes, ministers and a billionaire business tycoon were among dozens of high-profile figures arrested or sacked last weekend, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidates power.

The purge comes amid heightened regional tensions, with Saudi Arabia and Iran facing off over a missile attack from Yemen and a potential political crisis in Lebanon after prime minister Saad Hariri's shock resignation announced from Riyadh.

"A total of 208 individuals have been called in for questioning so far... Seven have been released without charge," the Saudi information ministry said in a statement.

Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned that assets related to the alleged corruption cases would be seized as state property, as the government appears set to widen the crackdown.

"The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large," the ministry said.

"Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least USD $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades."

High-profile figures, including billionaire tycoon Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, were arrested or sacked in the weekend crackdown -- just after an anti-graft commission headed by the crown prince was established.

- Rising tensions -

Prince Mohammed, the son of 81-year-old King Salman, is already seen as the country's de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government.

With the purge, which analysts describe as a bold but risky power play, the crown prince has centralised power to a degree that is unprecedented in recent Saudi history.

The crackdown comes as he moves to accelerate his Vision 2030 program to modernise the conservative kingdom, but also as Riyadh takes a more aggressive stance in its wider region.

In the wake of a failed missile attack against Riyadh airport on Saturday, which was claimed by Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, the kingdom has accused Tehran of "direct aggression".

Iran vehemently dismissed the charge that it supplied missiles to the Huthis and warned Saudi Arabia of its "might", prompting fresh acrimony between the regional heavyweights.

The tensions appear to be playing out in a new political crisis in Beirut.

On November 4, Hariri cited Iran's "grip" on Lebanon and threats to his life when he announced his resignation in a televised speech from Riyadh, precipitating a new political crisis in Beirut.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon "as soon as possible" and also called on them not to travel to the country, without specifying any threat.

The new tensions could escalate the proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides in wars and power struggles from Yemen to Syria.

 

Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Egypt’s Sisi to meet Lebanon’s Hariri

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days