Royal purge shakes S Arabia
Princes, ministers, investors arrested in an anti-corruption drive by future king
10 November, 2017
Saudi Arabia's heir to the throne Mohammed bin Salman tightened his grip on power through an anti-corruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors, news wires reported last Sunday. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of the king and one of the kingdom's most prominent businessmen is among 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers detained. The head of the National Guard, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah was arrested too. A day before, King Salman decreed the creation of an anti-corruption committee with powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and seize assets. The new body is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's 32-year-old favourite son, who in June ousted his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne and interior minister. Analysts said the arrests were another pre-emptive measure by the crown prince to remove powerful figures as he exerts control over the world's leading oil exporter.
The royal decree said the arrests were in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.” The allegations against Prince Alwaleed include money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, one official told Reuters, while Prince Miteb is accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own companies including a $10bn deal for walkie-talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals.
Observers recall that Prince Mohammed started an ambitious reform agenda aimed to modernise the kingdom and to prepare it for a post-oil era, which faces resistance from some of the old political elite. In September, King Salman announced that a ban on women driving would be lifted, while Prince Mohammed is trying to break decades of conservative tradition by promoting public entertainment and visits by foreign tourists. The crown prince has also slashed state spending in some areas and plans a big sale of state assets, including floating part of state oil giant Saudi Aramco on international markets.
"MBS is disrupting the model of Saudi government," Jane Kinninmont, of London-based think tank Chatham House told AFP, using an acronym widely used for the crown prince. Some business analysts warned that the purge, including the arrest of Prince Al-Waleed who has invested billions in companies around the world, could spook the private sector in the short term and intensify capital flight from Saudi Arabia.
Prince Mohammed regional policy also rises concerns. He led Saudi Arabia into a two-year-old war in Yemen, where the government says it is fighting Iran-aligned militants, and a row with neighbouring Qatar, which it accuses of backing terrorists, a charge Doha denies. Last Saturday, a missile fired by Iranian-allied rebels from Yemen reached the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in the deepest strike against the kingdom since the war began in March 2015, AP reported.