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Anti-corruption probe in Saudi Arabia

Source: The Independent.

Saudi stocks rebound after initial drop on corruption probe

This material belongs to: Reuters.

DUBAI (Reuters) – The Saudi stock market rebounded into positive territory on Sunday after initially dropping sharply in response to a corruption inquiry that led to a string of detentions of prominent political and business figures.

The stock index .TASI was up 0.02 percent an hour before the close, after falling 2.2 percent at one stage.

Some investors worry the investigation could force people implicated to sell equity holdings. But many think the purge will remove opposition to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, helping him accelerate economic reforms such as privatization and big development projects.

Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge widens as founder of one of the kingdom’s biggest travel companies is reportedly detained following arrests of 11 princes

This material belongs to: Daily Mail.


Saudi Arabia‘s anti-corruption probe appeared to be widening today after the founder of one of the kingdom’s biggest travel companies was detained.

Al Tayyar Travel board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar had been held by authorities in an investigation by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The company gave no details but online economic news service SABQ, which is close to the government, reported the detention this morning.

Dozens of people have been purged in the crackdown, which has consolidated Prince Mohammed’s power while alarming much of the traditional business establishment.

Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar (left) had been held by authorities in an investigation by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right). Source: Daily Mail.
Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar (left) had been held by authorities in an investigation by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right). Source: Daily Mail.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s best-known international investor, is also being held, officials said at the weekend.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials.

The allegations against the men include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was barely known outside Saudi Arabia before his father became king of the leading oil exporter in 2015.

But since being lined up as the next leader, the 32-year-old has made monumental changes as part of a drive to promote ‘moderate and tolerant Islam’ in the strictly religious country.

Early today a newly-formed anti-corruption committee arrested 49 people, including 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers.

The 32-year-old (pictured) is trying to modernise the conservative kingdom by purging traditionalists and bringing in new laws that allow women to drive and attend sports games. Source: Daily Mail.

Among those detained in five-star hotels in the capital Riyadh is billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal – who is one of the richest men in the world and owns the British capital’s top hotel the Savoy.

The arrests mainly involve traditionalist figures, who are loyal to the kingdom’s ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam Wahabbism.

Detaining them will help the prince with his plans to revert Saudi Arabia to a more ‘moderate Islam’ and ‘eradicate the remnants of extremism very soon’, plans he described to the media late last month.

He is very popular with young Saudis, who make up 70 per cent of the population, and says he wants to promote a ‘life in which our religion translates to tolerance’.

His modernisation plans have included lifting the ban on women drivers and investmenting $500billion (£381billion) in a new city and business zone.

The proposals, grouped under the name Vision 2030, also feature plans for the partial privatisation of the state oil company, Saudi Aramco, and the creation of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.

Cinemas are also soon expected to return to everyday Saudi life after music concerts were reintroduced.

Among those detained are former finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, a board member of the Saudi Aramco oil company, economy minister Adel Fakieh, former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah and former head of the royal court Khalid al-Tuwaijiri.

According to local reports, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is one of the men who has been detained in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘anti-corruption’ sweep. The billionaire owns the Savoy Hotel in London. Source: Daily Mail.
The Savoy hotel in London which is owned by one of the men arrested in the anti-corruption sting. Source: Daily Mail.

Another key arrest is Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the Saudi Binladin construction group, and brother of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden

The country’s national guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and navy commander Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan have also both been replaced with no explanation.

After news of the sweep broke, 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.

‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said.

‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

Those detained are being held in five-star hotels across the capital, Riyadh, in the anti-corruption sweep.

Reports suggest some of the detainees are being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

A royal court official, Badr al-Asaker, on Sunday appeared to confirm the arrests on Twitter, describing a ‘historic and black night against the corrupt’.

The powerful heads of the Saudi National Guard, an elite internal security force, and the navy were also replaced in a series of high-profile sackings that sent shock waves in the kingdom.

Few people had heard of Mohammed bin Salman before his father Salman (pictured) was made king in 2015. Source: Daily Mail.
Arrested: Bakr bin Laden (pictured), chairman of the Saudi Binladin construction group, and brother of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was detained as part of MBS’s purge of Islamist traditionalists. Source: Daily Mail.
Saudi National Guard Minister Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (pictured right with Prince Charles) has been replaced with no explanation. Source: Daily Mail.

Prince Alwaleed is one of the Middle East’s richest people, with investments in Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Citigroup, the Four Seasons hotel chains and most recently in ride sharing service Lyft.

He’s also known for being among the most outspoken Saudi royals, long advocating for greater women’s rights.

He is also majority owner of the popular Rotana Group of Arabic channels.

The government has so far only announced that an anti-corruption probe was launched, with state-linked media reporting that dozens of princes and ministers were detained without releasing their names.

In June this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed to the role after his father, King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, decided to depose former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef.

The king also ousted Prince Miteb bin Abdullah from his post as head of the National Guard overnight.

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.

Saudi Twitter accounts released several other names of those arrested, such as Alwalid al-Ibrahim, a powerful 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.

Last night, ahead of the arrests, Prince Mohammed established the anti-corruption commission by royal decree.

Prince Charles (left), flanked by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal (second left), his wife Amira delivers a speech during a tour at the official re-opening of the Savoy Hotel in London, on November 2, 2010. Source: Daily Mail.

An aviation source has said that security forces had grounded private jets in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, potentially to prevent any high-profile figures from leaving.

‘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,’ they said.

‘The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shockwaves through the domestic and international business community.’

Prince Alwaleed has made several appearances on CNBC to give investment advice.

Last month he was on the network predicting bitcoin was a ‘speculative bubble that would soon implode’.

The 32-year-old crown prince, often known as MBS, has projected himself as a liberal reformer in the ultra-conservative kingdom. Source: Daily Mail.

The arrests come less than two weeks after Prince Mohammed welcomed thousands of global business titans to Riyadh for an investment summit, showcasing his economic reform drive for a post-oil era.

It comes hours after Saudi Arabia hit and destroyed a ‘ballistic missile’ northeast from its capital Riyadh after it was launched from Yemen.

The missile was destroyed near Riyadh’s King Khaled international airport and was said to be of ‘limited size’.

No injuries or damage were reported.

Al-Waleed bin Talal: The Saudi billionaire prince who owns London’s Savoy hotel and slammed Trump

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Waleed bin Talal – the billionaire tycoon arrested in an anti-graft crackdown by his cousin Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – is no stranger to controversy and making headlines.

Ranked among the richest men in the world, the 62-year-old investor is the grandson of two of the Arab world’s most high-profile historic figures: King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and Riad al-Solh, Lebanon’s first prime minister.

Prince Al-Waleed first burst into the business-meets-politics scene in the late 1980s, when he began building what was to become a global empire of banks, luxury hotels and media holdings.

Over the next decade, the prince cultivated an image as a canny investor, proponent of Saudi modernisation and, eventually, staunch critic of Donald Trump.

In 2015, he slammed Trump on Twitter for his rhetoric during the US presidential campaign, calling him a ‘disgrace to America’ and urging him to drop out.

In his response, Trump ridiculed him on Twitter as a ‘dopey prince’.

Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s future king, is meanwhile a close ally of Trump.

On the surface, the cousins appear to share the same views, both supporting the right of women in the kingdom to drive. But reports of intense rivalry between the two have also long featured in royal circles.

Prince Al-Waleed’s arrest is likely to send shock waves across a host of companies that count him as a major investor.

The Kingdom Holding Company – in which the prince has a 95 percent stake – owns The Savoy in London, the Fairmont Plaza and the famed George V hotel in Paris.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) shakes hands with Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz during an inauguration ceremony for Damascus’ first Four Seasons hotel, March 22, 2006.

The prince, known for having a taste for luxury, also has stakes in Lyft, Twitter, News Corp, Euro Disney and 21st Century Fox.

Kingdom Holding’s share price dropped 7.6 percent at the close of the Saudi stock exchange on Sunday, in the wake of news of its owner’s arrest.

Forbes estimates his worth at $18.7 billion, landing him in position number 45 on its list of billionaires this year.

He is also an active philanthropist who donates, by his own account, millions of dollars each year to charities.

An arch defender of women’s rights in a country where women face a raft of restrictions, and an outspoken proponent of political reform, the prince has never made a secret of his views.

A vocal supporter of the five pillars or tenets of Islam, he has nonetheless blamed Saudi tradition for holding women back from advancing in society. He has said he once financed the flight training of an aspiring Saudi woman pilot.

The businessman spent his college years in upstate New York and northern California, earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Menlo College in Silicon Valley and a master’s degree in social science from Syracuse.

Al-Waleed first appeared on Forbes’ list of billionaires in 1988, one year after the annual list was first published.

In line with his reputation as a lover of the press, Forbes said it was the prince himself who had first contacted the magazine.

Aramco Board Targeted In Anti-Corruption Crackdown

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A string of arrests of senior government officials in Saudi Arabia has also struck Aramco board member Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former Finance Minister in the Kingdom. The situation apparently remains volatile and the arrest could spell further trouble for Aramco’s IPO next year.

The arrests came after late on Saturday King Salman surprised the public with the unveiling of a new government agency, an anti-corruption committee. The committee is headed by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and by the end of the week it had made 11 arrests of members of the royal family, four incumbent ministers, and dozens of former ministers.

Ibrahim al-Assaf is among the most prominent figures detained, as is billionaire investor Alwaleed bin Talal – a member of the royal family and chief of investment firm Kingdom Holding. According to a statement from the company, it had the full support of the government and would continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis.

While on the face of it the arrests are a crackdown on corruption, there seems to be a distinct consensus among observers that the underlying purpose of MBS is to solidify his own power in the Saudi government and get rid of opponents now, as opposed to later.

However, some analysts are worried that this power play could result in the collapse of Mohammed’s ambitious Vision 2030 plans, which just two weeks ago had bankers and investors rush to Riyadh to check out the future opportunities the large-scale reform plan will create.

The Vision 2030 program’s success hinges on Aramco’s IPO, scheduled for the second half of 2018. Prince Mohammed expects the listing to bring in some US$100 billion into the Saudi state coffers, but there are growing doubts that this will actually happen. While the arrests could have been made in order to show the world that the Saudi state is indeed changing and becoming more transparent, doubts as to the reliability of this change remain.

Meanwhile, President Trump said he has spoken to King Salman about Aramco’s listing on NYSE or Nasdaq. Trump also tweeted that he would appreciate Aramco listing in the United States. A New York listing, while still on the table, is still questionable, however, because of U.S. post-9/11 legislation that makes Saudi citizens vulnerable to prosecution.