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What’s new in Saudi sweeping anti-corruption probe?

Source: REUTERS/ Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court.

Saudi anti-corruption probe ‘finds $100bn was embezzled’

This material belongs to: BBC.

Saudi Arabia’s attorney general says at least $100bn (£76bn) has been misused through systemic corruption and embezzlement in recent decades.

Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said 201 people were being held for questioning as part of a sweeping anti-corruption drive that began on Saturday night.

He did not name any of them, but they reportedly include senior princes, ministers and influential businessmen.

“The evidence for this wrongdoing is very strong,” Sheikh Mojeb said.

He also stressed that normal commercial activity in the kingdom had not been affected by the crackdown, and that only personal bank accounts had been frozen.

Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said investigations by the newly-formed supreme anti-corruption committee, which is headed by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, were “progressing very quickly”.

He announced that 208 individuals had been called in for questioning so far, and that seven of them had been released without charge.

“The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large,” the attorney general said. “Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least $100bn has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.”

Sheikh Mojeb said the committee had a clear legal mandate to move on to the next phase of its investigation and that it had suspended the bank accounts of “persons of interest” on Tuesday.

“There has been a great deal of speculation around the world regarding the identities of the individuals concerned and the details of the charges against them,” he added. “In order to ensure that the individuals continue to enjoy the full legal rights afforded to them under Saudi law, we will not be revealing any more personal details at this time.”

Among those reportedly detained are the billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, a son of the late king who was also removed from his post as National Guard chief on Saturday; and his brother Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a former governor of Riyadh province.

Those caught up in the anti-corruption drive are reportedly being held at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton. Source: Reuters.

‘No visible resistance’

By Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

It is the Saudi weekend now and the country is still reeling from the monumental changes taking place.

So far, so good, as far as the crown prince and his supporters are concerned. “Phase One”, as the attorney-general calls it, is complete. Around 200 leading royal and business figures have been “called in for questioning” and there has been no visible resistance, no disaffected army hammering at the palace gates, no calls to arms on social media. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Saudi Arabia’s overwhelmingly young population has largely welcomed this clean-out of the kingdom’s notoriously profligate elite. The more hardline Wahhabi religious clerics, still licking their wounds from the crown prince’s recent announcement that the country needs to become more tolerant of other religions, will also be welcoming the purge.

The questions on everyone’s mind though, are how far will it go and who will be next?

Others are said to include Alwalid al-Ibrahim, owner of the television network MBC; Amr al-Dabbagh, former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority; Khalid al-Tuwaijri, former chief of the Royal Court; and Bakr Binladen, chairman of the Saudi Binladen Group.

At least some of them are believed to be held at the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter. Paying guests were asked to vacate their rooms late on Saturday and the hotel’s exterior gate has been shuttered since Sunday.

On Tuesday, the US said it had urged the Saudi government to handle any prosecutions stemming from the probe in a “fair and transparent” manner.

Human Rights Watch meanwhile called on Saudi officials to “immediately reveal the legal and evidentiary basis for each person’s detention and make certain that each person detained can exercise their due process rights”.

The detentions follow a wave of other recent arrests of clerics, human rights activists and intellectuals, for which the authorities have not given specific reasons.

Saudi Arabia’s $100 billion corruption scandal

This material belongs to: CNN.

Corrupt practices by Saudi royals and officials have cost the kingdom at least $100 billion over decades.

Saudi Arabia’s attorney general, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, gave the estimate of the losses in a statement Thursday.

He also said that 208 individuals have been questioned as part of an extensive investigation. Seven of them have been released without charge.

“Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” the kingdom’s top legal official said.

“The evidence for this wrongdoing is very strong, and confirms the original suspicions which led the Saudi Arabian authorities to begin the investigation in the first place.”

Saudi authorities arrested dozens of royals, businessmen and senior government officials on Saturday in a surprise anti-corruption sweep. Those arrested included billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the former head of the royal court Khaled Al-Tuwaijri and Saudi media mogul Waleed Al-Ibrahim.

The Saudi central bank has frozen the personal accounts of people under investigation. And authorities in the United Arab Emirates have reportedly asked banks there for information about assets held by 19 Saudi royals and officials.

It looks like the Saudi authorities may be gearing up for a lengthy probe. Some those arrested are reportedly being held in Riyadh’s 5-star Ritz Carlton, which has been out of bounds to other guests since the weekend. Now it appears to be “fully booked” until February 1, 2018.

Marriott (MAR), which owns the hotel, declined to comment on the situation at the Ritz citing “guest privacy.”

“We do not discuss the guests or groups with whom we do business or who may be visitors of the hotel,” a spokesperson said.

The arrests followed the establishment of a new anti-corruption committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It has the power to investigate, arrest, issue travel bans and freeze the assets of those it finds corrupt.

Saudi officials say the arrests are part of an effort to clean house in support of the crown prince’s push to overhaul the country’s economy and end what he once called its “addiction” to oil. Sweeping changes are already happening, including subsidy cuts, new taxes and the end of a controversial ban on women driving.

“The strengthening of [bin Salman’s] position should benefit near-term reform momentum given that the crown prince has been the dominant driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform agenda,” said Fitch ratings agency in a report on Thursday, but it also warned of an increased risk of a political backlash.

–Tamara Qiblawi contributed to this report.

Saudi Arabia detains more than 200 people in expanding ‘anti-corruption’ campaign

This material belongs to: The Washington Post.

ISTANBUL — Saudi Arabia said Thursday that it had detained more than 200 people as part of an expanding “anti-corruption” campaign that has led to the arrests of at least 11 princes and some of the country’s wealthiest and most prominent business tycoons.

The arrests began last week, and Saudi Arabia’s attorney general, Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, said in a statement on Thursday that the investigation was proceeding “quickly.” The probe has found that at least $100 billion had been “misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” the statement said, without providing details.

Saudi Arabia’s sudden and sweeping drive to punish graft, a deeply rooted problem in the country, appears to be closely linked to an effort by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to eliminate challengers and consolidate power before his father, King Salman, dies or abdicates, analysts say.

The arrests over the past few days include potential rivals, such as Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was head of the Saudi National Guard and a favored son of the late King Abdullah. Also detained was Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor who holds large stakes in companies such as Twitter and Apple.

The anti-graft campaign has overlapped with a spike in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, its regional nemesis: a coincidence of timing, or a sign that Mohammed and the Saudi leadership were mounting a broad offensive against enemies at home and abroad.

Under the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, the country said it will confiscate money and assets from dozens of top officials and businessmen. (Reuters)

Over the past five days, Saudi Arabia’s turbulence has reverberated across the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia traded bitter accusations over the war in Yemen after Saudi Arabia claimed that Iran bore responsibility for a missile strike on Saturday that reached Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

The Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group allied with Iran that is battling a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, said it had carried out the missile strike. Iran denied it was responsible.

Separately, the Saudis appear to have played a central role in the mysterious and abrupt resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, who harshly criticized Iran during a speech he delivered Saturday from Riyadh. Hariri’s whereabouts have remained a subject of fevered speculation, amid rumors that the Saudis are restricting his movements.

The Saudi attorney general, responding to mounting concerns that the arrests could scare off foreign investment in the kingdom, said that “normal commercial activity” would not be affected and that only personal bank accounts were being suspended as part of the probe.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, on Thursday also denied that detentions would affect investor confidence, saying in an interview with CNBC that “it shows that we have adopted a zero-tolerance policy on corruption.”

The investigations had been underway for more than two years, he said.

“A sizable percentage of our budget, we discovered, was being stolen. And this cannot stand. Where you have corruption, you cannot have justice, you cannot have investment, you cannot have efficient and transparent government,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

Shaky social media footage showed the inside of Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel, where top Saudi Arabian officials were said to be held Nov. 9 following their arrests in an anti-corruption purge.(Reuters)

Saudi King Will Reportedly Transfer Power to His Son in Coming Days

This material belongs to: Sputnik.

Saudi King Salman, 81, may abdicate from the throne in favor of his 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Arab media has reported in the light of seismic events that rocked the kingdom over the weekend.

The king will announce the decision within “the next two nights,” the Iranian news channel PressTV reported Wednesday, citing information from Rai al-Youm, a website publishing news and analyses on the Arab world.

Earlier on Wednesday, Saudi-owned television channel Al-Arabiya announced the news on Twitter, but later the post was deleted, according to the report.

The information is not officially confirmed. Riyadh has not made any statement regarding the issue.

“The expected development marks a change in the order of succession in Saudi Arabia from lateral lines of elderly brothers to a vertical order under which the king hands power to his favorite son,” PressTV reported.

For the first time, speculation of King Salman’s possible abdication had surfaced in late June when the monarch removed his nephew, then deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, from his position, making his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir apparent to the throne.

In September, the Lebanese broadcaster al-Manar reported citing sources close to the royal family that King Salman may soon step down due to health issues.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has already made headlines with his reforms.

Over 40 members of the royal family, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, ministers, military officials and businessmen, were arrested in Saudi Arabia on Sunday at the order of the kingdom’s newly established anti-corruption committee headed by the crown prince.

On April 25, 2016, the crown prince announced the Saudi Vision 2030 development plan. The document includes 80 projects, aimed at developing public service sectors, among others, and a number of women’s rights initiatives.

In late October, Mohammed bin Salman also spoke in favor of returning to “moderate Islam” and pledged to bring an end to extremism in Saudi Arabia in the near future.

In September, the Saudi government announced that it would ease restrictions on female spectators in sports stadiums and starting June 2018 all women in the country would be allowed to drive. Women in Saudi Arabia have been barred from driving since the late 1970s.

Saudi Billionaires Look to Move Funds to Escape Asset Freeze

This material belongs to: Bloomberg.

Wealthy Saudis are moving assets out of the region to avoid the risk of getting caught up in what authorities call a crackdown on corruption, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Some Saudi billionaires and millionaires are selling investments in neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries and turning them into cash or liquid holdings overseas, the people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. In Saudi Arabia, some are in talks with banks and asset managers to move money outside the country, the people said.

Based on investigations over the past three years, authorities estimate that at least $100 billion has been misused “through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a statement on Thursday. A total of 208 individuals have been called in for questioning so far and seven have been released without charge, he said.

Until the surprise arrests of dozens of people last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s elite was the darling of Deutsche Bank AG, UBS Group AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and other global banks seeking to manage their wealth. They now find themselves on the run in the face of a campaign that has targeted some of the kingdom’s most prominent princes, billionaires and officials.

“There is no doubt that many offshore investors are reassessing their view of the Gulf as a stable and predictable place to do business,” said Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce, a London-based senior economist and geopolitical strategist at Standard Chartered Bank. “There is a growing perception that governance is becoming increasingly arbitrary or at least less rule-based.”

UAE Freezes

The central bank asked lenders in the kingdom to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals who aren’t under arrest, as well as the assets of those being detained, people familiar with the matter said.

In addition, the United Arab Emirates central bank asked financial institutions to provide information on the accounts of 19 Saudi citizens, people familiar with the matter said Thursday. The regulator asked to be informed of any accounts, deposits, investments, financial instruments, credit facilities, safe deposit boxes or financial transfers linked to the people, according to a circular seen by Bloomberg.

FX Reserves

While efforts to curb corruption are welcome, the “speed and breadth of the crackdown has stirred fear among investors,” said Jason Tuvey, London-based Middle East economist at Capital Economics. “There’s the added concern here that the political uncertainty leads to a period of capital outflows that forces SAMA to burn through its foreign-exchange reserves at a faster pace,” he said, referring to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, as the central bank is known.

The arrests have prompted investors from within the region to sell. The selloff across the GCC has cost stocks $17.6 billion as of Wednesday, dragging the collective market capitalization for bourses in the region to $900 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Gulf investors sold a net $92.5 million of Dubai stocks on Tuesday, the most since February. The benchmark Tadawul All Share Index closed up 0.3 percent in Riyadh.

Source: Bloomberg.

The crackdown started after King Salman formed an anti-corruption commission on Saturday, headed by his son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Among those detained was Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah. He was also removed from his post as head of the powerful National Guard, a move that reinforced speculation the king was preparing to hand over power to his son. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s 61st-richest person, also was arrested.

Economic Struggle

The purge is affecting some of Saudi Arabia’s richest families. For decades, they benefited from a close relationship with the country’s rulers, which helped them win major contracts and partner with international companies seeking a foothold in the Arab world’s biggest economy.

It also comes at a time when the economy is struggling to cope with the slump in oil prices: Unemployment among Saudis is rising and non-oil gross domestic product is barely expanding. The government has raised tens of billions of dollars from international bond markets and has drawn down on central bank reserves to finance a budget deficit that reached about 15 percent of gross domestic product in 2015.

The shift in assets is “unsurprising given a true corruption cleanup would go much further than the events of the weekend,” said Emad Mostaque, London-based co-chief investment officer of emerging-markets hedge fund Capricorn Fund Managers Ltd. The central bank “has strong systems in place to track flows and excellent relationships with major banks globally so any assets moved offshore could be frozen and returned if from corruption.”

Some of the country’s wealthy are worried that shifting assets outside Saudi Arabia may draw suspicion and are instead focusing on their GCC holdings, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

Transformation Plan

Saudi Arabia is also in the midst of implementing a transformation aimed at weaning the economy off oil. The government plans to create the world’s largest sovereign fund and sell hundreds of state assets, including Saudi Arabian Oil Co., as well as stakes in the stock exchange, soccer teams and flour mills.

Concerns of a renewed confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is also prompting investors to dump stocks in the region. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Saturday, announcing his decision from Saudi Arabia and blaming Iran and the Hezbollah militants it backs for the his decision.

Kuwait’s SE Price Index has lost 4.4 percent, while Dubai’s DFM General Index fell 4.8 percent. All measures in the region are down for the week with the exception of Oman’s MSM30 Index, which rose 0.3 percent.

“A lot of GCC money is already sitting outside the GCC region, especially in Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Asia,” said Sergey Dergachev, who helps oversee about $14 billion in assets as a senior money manager at Union Investment Privatfonds GmbH in Frankfurt. “Those centers should remain beneficiaries if more money moves out.”

— With assistance by Alaa Shahine, Dana El Baltaji, and Dinesh Nair

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques promotes and appoints 56 judges at Ministry of Justice

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Riyadh, Safar 20, 1439, November 09, 2017, SPA — The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has issued a royal order promoting and appointing 56 judges at the Ministry of Justice at various ranks.

The Minister of Justice, Chairman of Supreme Magistracy Council Sheikh Dr. Walid bin Mohammed Al-Samaani has expressed his thanks and appreciation to the King for his continuing support for the judiciary.


14:55 LOCAL TIME 11:55 GMT