11 princes, four current ministers and tens of former ministers detained; Two ministers, navy chief replaced
Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of princes, senior military officers, businessmen and top officials, including a well-known royal billionaire with extensive holdings in Western companies, as part of a sweeping purported 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 Co. told The Associated Press that the royal— who is one of the world’s richest men— was among those detained overnight Saturday. The company’s stock was down nearly 9 percent in trading Sunday on the Saudi stock exchange.
“The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichs-en, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community,” Ulrichsen told AFP.
Reports suggested those detained were being held at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which only days earlier hosted a major investment conference with global business titans from the US, Japan and other countries. A Saudi official told The Associated Press that other five-star hotels across the capital were also being used to hold some of those arrested.
The surprise arrests, which also reportedly include 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 been plagued by allegations of corruption at the highest levels of government.
The latest purge saw Prince Miteb bin Abdullah sacked as the head of the National Guard, an elite internal security force. His removal consolidates the crown prince´s control of the kingdom´s security institutions.
The two key changes in the Cabinet were that of National Guard Minister Miteb bin Abdullah, who was replaced by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf, and Economy Minister Adel Fakieh, who was replaced by Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri.
Commander of the Navy, Abdullah Al-Sultan, was relieved of his position and has been replaced by Adm. Fahad Al-Ghofaili.
Besides the crown prince, the committee comprises heads of the Anti-Corruption Commission (Nazaha), Public Security, General Prosecutor and the Investigation Authority.
Foreign diplomats predict that Prince Mohammed, set to be the first millennial to occupy the Saudi throne, could well be in control of Saudi Arabia for at least half a century.
A Saudi government official with close ties to security says 11 princes and 38 others are being held. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
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 from his post as head of the National Guard. The prince is reportedly among those detained in the sweep, as is his brother, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who was once governor of Riyadh. Both are sons of the late King Abdullah, who ruled before his half-brother King Salman.
Prince Miteb was once considered a contender for the throne.
Saudi Twitter accounts released several other names of those arrested, such as: Alwaleed 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.
An earlier crackdown on perceived critics of the crown prince included clerics, writers, lesser-known princes and Saudi figures popular on social media. The Finance Ministry said the anti-corruption probe “opens a new era of transparency and accountability,” enhances confidence in 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 Saudi-owned 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, as well as the government’s handling of a Coronavirus outbreak that has killed several hundred people in recent years.
Prince Alwaleed’s many investments include Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Citigroup, and the Four Seasons, Fairmont and Movenpick hotel chains. He is also an investor in ride-sharing services Lyft and Careem.
The prince, often pictured on his 85.65-meter (281 foot) superyacht in the Mediterranean, is among the most outspoken Saudi royals and a longtime advocate for women’s rights. He is also majority owner of the popular Rotana Group of Arabic channels.
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.
According to a senior Saudi official who declined to be identified under briefing rules, those detained include:
– Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding
– Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, minister of the National Guard
– Prince Turki bin Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh province
– Khalid al-Tuwaijri, former chief of the Royal Court
– Adel Fakeih, Minister of Economy and Planning
– Ibrahim al-Assaf, former finance minister
– Abdullah al-Sultan, commander of the Saudi navy
– Bakr bin Laden, chairman of Saudi Binladin Group
– Mohammad al-Tobaishi, former head of protocol at the Royal Court.—Agencies