In an unprecedented anti-corruption operation, Saudi Arabia has detained eleven princes, four current ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Al Arabiya TV.
One of the detainees is none other than Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the richest men in the Middle East, with investments in Twitter and Apple; Four Seasons, Fairmont and Movenpick hotel chains; Citigroup; Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp as well as stakes in ride-sharing companies Lyft and Careem.
The arrests were made on the orders of Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, 32, following his appointment as Chairman of a new anti-corruption committee announced by King Salman on Saturday.
Shortly before the crackdown, the King removed one of the royal family’s most prominent members, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, as head of the National Guard and appointed two new ministers to key economic and security posts.
Reports suggest that the ousted prince was one of the detainees along with his brother and erstwhile governor of Riyadh Prince Turki bin Abdullah; both are sons of the late King Abdullah.
Reportedly the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, as well as other five-star properties across the capital, are being used as holding cells for the detained group. It must be mentioned that the Ritz Carlton is the same hotel which hosted the investment conference with global economic giants from the U.S., Japan, and other countries just days ago.
The Crown Prince was declared heir to the throne in a major reshuffle in June, sidelining his older cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was replaced by a lesser known royal, Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, to head the National Guard — a prestigious entity responsible for protecting the royal family, important holy sites in Mecca and Medina, and oil and gas sites.
Prince Salman has since been wearing many a hat in the Saudi scheme of things. From managing the country’s energy policy and planning an oil-independent economy to controlling Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, the young Prince is proving himself worthy of the throne he is in line to occupy.
“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,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
The unprecedented high-profile arrests have been generally hailed by the media and public who were fed up with the rampant corruption prevalent in the government and among several members of the Saudi royals. Prince Salman is indeed living up to his promise of ridding the kingdom of corruption at the highest levels.
Some of the other detainees whose names have been released by Saudi Twitter accounts are:
Alwalid al-Ibrahim: Saudi businessman with ties to the royal family who runs the Arabic satellite group MBC
Amr al-Dabbagh: Former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority
Ibrahim Assaf: Former finance minister;
Bakr Binladin: Head of the Saudi Binladin Group, a major business conglomerate.
This is how James M. Dorsey – a Gulf specialist and senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore – has analyzed the latest Saudi developments.
“The dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed rather than forging alliances is extending his iron grip to 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.”
Late on Saturday, Saudi Arabia claimed that they had intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels, with Riyadh International Airport as the intended target.
President Donald Trump was quick to blame Iran for the attack.
“A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down,” Trump was obviously boasting about the Patriot missile batteries the United States has sold to Saudi Arabia. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make and now we’re selling it all over the world.”
Whether the US was kept in the loop about the impending arrests is a matter of conjecture at this point of time. However, the point to be noted is the recent unannounced visit to the Saudi capital by Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner and others. Also, earlier on Saturday Trump claimed to have spoken with King Salman about listing Saudi Aramco – the kingdom’s state-run oil company – in the United States.
Although the exact nature of charges against those arrested, including the billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is not yet clear, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel reports that the anti-corruption investigation involves the Jeddah flooding that killed around 120 people in 2009 and devastated the city again in 2011. The agency is also probing the government’s gross mishandling of the Coronavirus crisis in recent years that has resulted in the loss of several hundred lives.
Apparently, the arrests have the backing of the country’s top council of clerics who have commended the move in a statement which says fighting corruption is an Islamic duty.
On Sunday, Badr al-Asaker, a top royal court official, as good as confirmed the arrests with a twitter post that read “historic and black night against the corrupt.”
According to the Saudi government, the King’s newly announced anti-corruption committee being headed by the Crown Prince has the unbridled license to issue arrest warrants, freeze or ban accounts, impose travel restrictions and do whatever else it deems necessary to bring the corrupt to the book.
The arrests coincided with Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s televised resignation from Riyadh – just hours before the high-level crackdown. A close ally of Saudi Arabia, Hariri lashed out at Iran and Hezbollah accusing them of meddling in Arab affairs.
“Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off,” he said.