RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s newly established anti-corruption committee overseeing the arrests of top princes and officials said Monday that evidence of widespread corruption has been uncovered among “influential officials and senior executives” and that trials will soon be held, the first tacit government acknowledgement of the seniority of those under investigation. The campaign of mass arrests expanded Monday after top entrepreneur and founder of Al Tayyar Travels, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, was reportedly detained in the crackdown that the attorney general described as “phase one.”
King Salman, meanwhile, conducted state business as usual, swearing in new officials to take over from a powerful prince and ex-minister believed to be detained in the large-scale sweep that has shocked the country and upended longstanding traditions within the ruling family.
The official Saudi Press Agency released images of the king swearing in new National Guard chief Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Moqren and new Economy and Planning Minister Mohammad al-Tuwaijri.
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who for the past four years had led the National Guard, and Adel Fakeih, economy minister since April, were both reportedly arrested as part of the purported anti-graft probe led by the king’s son, the crown prince.
Eleven princes and 38 officials and businessmen are reportedly being held at five-star hotels across the capital, Riyadh.
Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb said that the trials would be held “in a timely and open manner” and that the probe was “merely the start of a vital process to root out corruption.”
He said the arrests were made in order to “ensure there was no flight from justice,” adding: “A great deal of evidence has already been gathered, and detailed questioning has taken place.”
A member of the anti-corruption committee, Khalid al-Mehaisen, described the investigations as “a very difficult task when it involves influential officials and senior executives.” He said preliminary investigations were happening over the past three years, leading up to the arrests.
“The evidence of transgressions and financial mismanagement uncovered recently points to widespread graft in a number of cases.”
The crackdown has drawn no public opposition within the kingdom either on the street or social media. Many ordinary Saudis applauded the arrests, the latest in a string of domestic and international moves asserting the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s authority.The highest-profile royal caught in the sweep is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, an outspoken billionaire royal with investments in Western companies. The company he chairs sought to reassure investors after its stock plunged following his arrest.
Kingdom Holding Co. said in a statement Monday that it maintains the government’s “vote of confidence” as it pursues its investment strategy and global business operations. The company has investments in Twitter, Apple, Lyft, Citigroup and hotel chains like the Four Seasons, Movenpick and Fairmont.
A no-fly list has been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit, pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat said.
The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extortion and taking advantage of public office for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters. Those accusations could not be independently verified and family members of those detained could not be reached.
The new anti-corruption committee has the power to seize assets at home and abroad before the results of its investigations are known.