Saudi Arabia’s authorities have arrested at least 201 people by yesterday as they seek to uncover a corruption scandal involving at least $100 billion.
The unprecedented sweep by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, targeting top businessmen and princes has received criticism from critics and experts, who say it as a way of consolidating power. Experts and critics point out that the move is aimed at neutralising potential rivals and destroying alliances made in the past with royal family branches.
According to Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb, 208 people were called for questioning, while seven people were freed without any charges. This left 201 people in custody. However, the new figure of arrests, which is way larger than what the government reported, reflects the continued arrests that have ran through the week.
The sweep began on Saturday night when 11 princes and 38 business leaders and officials were arrested. The arrested people are held at different five star hotels, like the Ritz Calton in Riyadh among others.
The crown prince, 32, the son of King Salman who goes by the initials MBS, is conducting investigations after being appointed as the head of a recently formed anti corruption committee.
The detainees include billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and the late King Abdulla’s two sons.
One of the sons, Prince Miteb, was until Saturday a powerful official heading the National Guard. A few years ago, he was seen as a serious candidate for the throne, and it was believed that he opposed the rise of MBS to princehood.
At the same time, the government kept secret the identity of the other detainees pending investigations. It also froze at least 1,700 bank accounts.
Meanwhile, the investigations have been intensified to United Arab Emirates.Reuters reports that the Saudi central bank has requested local and foreign financial insititutions to provide account details of 19 Saudis, believed to have been arrested in the sweep.
Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb said that the scale of uncovered corruption was large, adding that at least $100 billion could potentially have been lost through embezzlement and corrupt practices over the last three years.
Saudis have for long decried the rampant corrupt practices and wastage of public funds by top government officials. They also decry the widespread nepotism in the system, which makes corruption thrive.
To complicate matters further, members of the royal family are believed to operate above the law, with most of them drawing monthly stipends from state funds piled after years of high oil prices.
With the prices of oil falling for the last three years, the governemnt introduced additional taxes and put an end to some subsidies as it moved to boost revenues while cutting on government spending. The corruption purge follows increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Yemen war, and the political crisis rocking Lebanon.