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Analysis / Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests

AP file photo

King Salman, left, speaks with his son, now Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as they wait for Gulf Arab leaders ahead of the opening of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on May 14, 2012.

ReutersRIYADH (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia’s future king has tightened his grip on power through an anticorruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors, including billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal who is one of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen.

Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of the king and owner of investment firm Kingdom Holding, invests in firms, such as Citigroup and Twitter. He was among 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers detained, three senior officials told Reuters on Sunday.

The purge against the kingdom’s political and business elite also targeted the head of the National Guard Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was detained and replaced as minister of the powerful National Guard by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf.

The allegations against Prince Alwaleed include money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, one official told Reuters, while Prince Miteb is accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own companies including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals.

News of the purge came soon after King Salman decreed late on Saturday the creation of an anticorruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his 32-year-old favorite son who has amassed power since rising from obscurity three years ago.

The new body was given broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and seize assets.

“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” the royal decree said.

Analysts said the arrests were another pre-emptive measure by the crown prince to remove powerful figures as he exerts control over the world’s leading oil exporter.

The roundup recalls the palace coup in June through which he ousted his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne and interior minister.

MbS, as he is known, was expected to follow at least by removing Prince Miteb from leadership of the National Guard, a pivotal power base rooted in the kingdom’s tribes.

Over the past year, MbS has become the ultimate decision-maker for the kingdom’s military, foreign, economic and social policies, causing resentment among parts of the Al Saud dynasty frustrated by his meteoric rise.

The royal decree said the arrests were in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.”

The line between public funds and royal money is not always clear in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled by an Islamic system in which most law is not systematically codified and no elected parliament exists.

WikiLeaks cables have detailed the huge monthly stipends that every Saudi royal receives as well as various money-making schemes some have used to finance lavish lifestyles.

Analysts said the purge aimed to go beyond corruption and aimed to remove potential opposition to Prince Mohammed’s ambitious reform agenda, which is widely popular with Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning youth population but faces resistance from some of the old guard more comfortable with the kingdom’s traditions of incremental change and rule by consensus.Speech

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