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Saudi Arabia expands graft inquiry, says $100 bil. stolen

Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, left, chats with his son and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Wednesday.

ReutersABU DHABI/DUBAI (Reuters) — Saudi authorities have questioned 208 people in an anticorruption investigation and estimate at least $100 billion has been stolen through graft, a top official said on Thursday as the inquiry expanded beyond the kingdom’s borders.

“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,” Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said in a statement.

Of the 208 people called in for questioning so far, seven have been released without charge, Sheikh Saud said, without naming them.

Dozens of princes, senior officials and prominent businessmen, including cabinet ministers and billionaires, have been detained in the inquiry, which was announced last weekend and appears at least partly aimed at strengthening the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The investigation has spread to the neighboring United Arab Emirates, as the UAE central bank has asked commercial banks and finance companies there to provide details of the accounts of 19 Saudis, commercial bankers told Reuters on Thursday.

Almost all of the 19, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, are known to have been detained.

The commercial bankers said UAE authorities had not explained why they wanted the information, but the bankers believe the authorities were acting at the behest of the Saudi government, which has said it aims to recover illicit funds.

UAE central bank officials were not available to comment, while Saudi officials, who have frozen over 1,700 domestic bank accounts as part of the crackdown, did not respond to requests for comment.

The UAE, particularly Dubai, is one of the main places where wealthy Saudis park their money abroad. In addition to bank accounts, they buy luxury apartments and villas in Dubai and invest in the emirate’s volatile stock market.

Some wealthy Saudi individuals have been liquidating assets within Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf countries this week, apparently in an effort to move money out of the region and escape the crackdown, private bankers and fund managers said.

In Riyadh, rich individual investors have been selling equities heavily, although buying by state-linked funds has helped to support the market. Speech

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