Billionaire investor Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal (Photo: VCG)
Cairo (People’s Daily) - Saudi Arabia detained 11 princes, including prominent billionaire investor Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, and dozens of current and former ministers, on Saturday night, thanks to its newly formed anti-corruption committee, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported, citing unnamed sources.
The sweeping arrests appear to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBZ, 32, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman.
King Salman appointed two new ministers on Saturday to key security and economic posts, removing one of the royal family’s most prominent members as head of the national guard, as part of a series of high-profile sackings.
Hours earlier, according to a Royal Decree issued by King Salman, a new anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was formed. The Chairman of the Monitoring and Investigation Commission, Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Authority, Chief of the General Audit Bureau, Attorney General and Head of State Security are all a part of the high-power anti-graft panel, which will “identify offenses, crimes, persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption,” the royal decree said.
The committee is empowered to investigate, issue arrest warrants and travel bans, order financial disclosure and the freezing of accounts and portfolios, track funds and assets and prevent their remittance or transfer by individuals and entities.
"The committee has the right to take any precautionary measures it sees fit, until they are referred to the investigating authorities or judicial bodies,” said the decree.
"It may take whatever measures deemed necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases and take what it considers to be the right of persons, entities, funds, fixed and movable assets, at home and abroad, return funds to the state treasury and register property and assets in the name of state property.”
The state-run Saudi press agency said the commission’s goal was to “preserve public money, punish corrupt people and those who exploit their positions”.
In its first decision, according to Al Arabiya TV, the committee ordered the arrests of a number of princes and big businessmen for their involvement in corruption in several cases. The suspects were not officially named.
Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was among those arrested, Saudi news websites said, even though there was no official confirmation.
An aviation source said security forces had grounded private jets in Jeddah, possibly to prevent any high-profile personalities from leaving the country.
The committee also announced that it is reopening the file of the 2009 Jeddah floods, and investigating the Corona virus issue, also known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
"The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in the US. "The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community.”
The cabinet reshuffle saw Prince Miteb bin Abdullah replaced as minister of the national guard by Khaled bin Ayyaf, while economy minister Adel Fakieh made way for his deputy Mohammed al-Tuwaijri, according to a royal decree carried by state-run media.
Prince Miteb, the preferred son of the late King Abdullah, was once thought to be a leading contender for the throne before the unexpected rise of Prince Mohammed two years ago.
He had inherited control of the national guard, an elite internal security force built out of traditional tribal units, from his father, who ran it for five decades.
Prince Miteb was the last remaining member of Abdullah’s branch of the family to hold a position in the upper echelons of the Saudi power structure.
The move consolidates Prince Mohammed’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family.
The Crown Prince already serves as the defense minister and was named heir to the throne in a June reshuffle that sidelined his older cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had also served as interior minister.
He has been responsible for waging Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, dictating an energy policy with global implications and the brain behind the plans for the kingdom to build a robust economic future beyond oil.
The prince, who has pledged to go after graft at the highest levels, will now also lead the new anti-corruption body, which was given sweeping powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and freeze assets.
"The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” the royal decree said.
The country's new economy minister, Tuwaijri, is a former Saudi air force pilot and the former chief executive of HSBC’s Middle East operations who has led the economy ministry’s program to privatize $200 billion of government assets.
He replaces Fakieh, who spearheaded the kingdom’s wide-ranging economic reforms since his appointment as economy and planning minister in 2015.
Fakieh faced fierce opposition from the business community as labor minister when he established quotas for foreign workers to boost jobs for Saudis.
His replacement comes as the kingdom makes adjustments to that plan, which is known as National Transformation Plan, or NTP, 2.0.
The royal decree didn’t say whether Fakieh would hold any other government position. In Saudi Arabia, former ministers often serve in advisory roles after leaving their posts.