Saudi Arabia could seize $800 billion in assets from the kingdom’s elite as part of its anti-corruption purge.
So far at least 11 princes and 38 former government ministers have been detained in the crackdown ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, though there are said to be more names on the hit list.
They have all had their bank accounts frozen and risk having their assets and properties seized by the government as it attempts to flush out fraud in Saudi Arabia.
As the net is cast wider by government officials, the hierarchy are said to be eyeing up cash and assets worth around $800billion, according to Wall Street Journal who quoted sources close to the matter.
It is believed the number of those detained has now reached more than 60, but that the government is watching more notable figures.
He also owns the huge Kingdom Tower in Riyadh – a 99-storey skyscraper which features a Four Seasons hotel, luxury apartments and a shopping maul.
The Saudi information ministry stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning London’s Savoy hotel could become state property in the kingdom.
Meanwhile, in an astonishing move, Saudi Arabia princes fleeing the purge have been offered asylum in Yemen by the same rebels they are bombing.
Houthi rebels have made the offer of political asylum to princes and a source told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that any Saudi prince or national seeking refuge would be ‘welcomed’ by Yemen, their ‘brotherly neighbour’.
‘We are ready to offer sanctuary to any member of the Al Saud family or any Saudi national that wants to flee oppression and persecution,’ the source said.
Malay Islamist group PAS has stubbornly ignored Najib’s 1MDB corruption scandal, what is now the position of its leaders who have themselves been accused of corruption with the new line taken by Saudi, the capital of the Muslim world? – MC
The Saudi information ministry yesterday sought to reassure investors the sweeping anti-corruption purge would not affect businesses, including those with ties to arrested suspects, as authorities appeared to widen the crackdown.
Dozens of high-profile figures including princes, ministers were arrested at the weekend in the biggest purge of the kingdom’s elite in modern Saudi history.
The crackdown has triggered uncertainty among businesses that could intensify capital flight or derail reforms, experts say, at a time when the kingdom is seeking to attract badly needed investments amid a protracted oil slump.
Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned that any assets related to the corruption cases would be seized as state property.
‘It is worth clarifying that concerned individual accounts rather than their corporate businesses have been put in suspension until final court rulings,’ central bank chief Ahmed Abdulkarim AlKholifey said in a statement.
‘In other words, corporate businesses remain unaffected.
‘It is business as usual for both banks and corporates,’ he said, adding that there were no restrictions on money transfers through legal banking channels.
Separately, Saudi commerce minister Majid al-Qasabi said that companies, including those owned by the arrested elites, will be accorded ‘full protection’ under the law.
Local media has reported new arrests of well-known businessmen since the weekend crackdown, including Naser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, the founder of one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest travel companies
In a statement to Saudi stock exchange, his company said it was aware of reports of Tayyar’s arrest, adding it confirms the ‘continuation of business to serve the interests of shareholders and customers’.
With the purge, which analysts describe as a bold but risky power play, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to have centralised power to a degree that is unprecedented in recent Saudi history.
US President Donald Trump has voiced support for the crackdown, saying some of those arrested had been ‘milking their country for years’.
Saudi royal purge: The Crown prince’s high-stakes gambit
With his sweeping royal purge, Saudi Arabia’s future king has upended a decades-old system of governance adopted by previous rulers in what analysts describe as a bold but risky power play.
Dozens of political and business figures were arrested at the weekend in what Saudi authorities have dubbed an anti-corruption swoop, including billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, while powerful royals such as the national guard chief were sacked.
The dramatic clampdown on business figures could deal a blow to investor confidence,
potentially derailing sweeping Vision 2030 reforms, the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The purge underscores an unprecedented restructuring of the kingdom as Prince Mohammed dismantles a governance model involving consensus within the royal family, while he amasses extraordinary power.
‘The structure of dynastic rule established over the past few decades is being reshaped into a more centralised monarchical system,’ said Jane Kinninmont, of London-based think tank Chatham House.
‘MBS is disrupting the model of Saudi government,’ Kinninmont said using an acronym widely used for the crown prince.
Saudi authorities hailed the dramatic crackdown as a bold initiative to root out corruption.
But analysts question whether the issue serves as a guise for Prince Mohammed to consolidate power by eliminating rivals opposed to his reform drive and eventual succession as king.
‘The dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed rather than forging alliances is extending his iron grip to… counter opposition,’ said James Dorsey from Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
‘It raises questions about the reform process that increasingly is based on a unilateral rather than a consensual rewriting of the kingdom’s social contract.’
Prince Mohammed’s supporters lionise him as an enlightened disrupter of the status quo as he pursues dramatic social and economic reforms to modernise the kingdom and prepare for a post-oil era.
The venue of the summit, Riyad’s Ritz Carlton hotel, is now rumoured to be the site where many of the arrested elites are being held
His anti-graft campaign follows other bold moves, including a royal decree allowing women to drive from next June and clipping the powers of the religious police.
His ambitions were on display at an investor summit in Riyadh two weeks ago, where global business titans were shown blueprints for multibillion dollar projects, including a futuristic megacity with robots and driverless cars.
The venue of the summit, Riyad’s Ritz Carlton hotel, is now rumoured to be the site where many of the arrested elites are being held.
Police cars surround the palatial complex, with its imposing gates clamped shut.
‘The anti-corruption sweep has included individuals who had been seen as potential sources of resistance to elements of MBS’s various projects,’ said Kinninmont.
The sweep has triggered uncertainty among businesses at a time when the kingdom is seeking to attract badly needed investments amid a protracted oil slump.
Among those being held, aside from Prince Al-Waleed, is Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the influential Arab satellite network MBC, as well as construction tycoon Bakr Bin Laden (pictured) and billionaire Saleh Kama
Among those being held, aside from Prince Al-Waleed, is Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the influential Arab satellite network MBC, as well as construction tycoon Bakr Bin Laden and billionaire Saleh Kamal.
Research firm Capital Economics said the arrests could deal a short-term ‘blow’ to the economy as opposition towards Prince Mohammed builds, potentially threatening his reform drive.
Geneva’s Mirabaud Securities 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.
But seemingly unfazed, government social media channels have replayed a months-old interview with Prince Mohammed in which he stressed that neither ministers nor business tycoons will be spared if found guilty of corruption.
It is a message that resonates with the masses who seethe over a culture of privilege among old-generation royals.
‘Cynics calling it a power grab but actually power had been already consolidated,’ tweeted Ali Shihabi, director of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation who is said to be close to the establishment.
‘This is about reshaping elite behavior by picking high profile symbols. (Its) message is that house cleaning starts at the top.’
But experts warn that the purge could trigger a backlash especially as Prince Mohammed seeks to consolidate his control over the security services.
He ousted Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the 64-year-old son of the late king Abdullah, as the head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
The internal security force has long been seen as a local of tribal power and a stronghold of king Abdullah’s family.
In June, he also toppled the previous crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, ousting him from the interior ministry.
‘Such dramatic changes are bound to meet some resistance and opposition,’ Kinninmont said.
‘Since there are few permitted avenues for expressing opposition and criticism in Saudi Arabia, (we) inevitably wonder whether opposition is brewing behind the scenes.’