RIYADH (Dispatches) -- Saudi Arabia has announced the detention of hundreds of government officials, including military and security officers, on charges involving bribery and exploiting public office, and said investigators would bring charges against them.
Scores of the kingdom’s economic and political elite were detained in 2017 at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a crackdown that unsettled some foreign investors.
The royal court said last year it was winding down that campaign after 15 months, but the authorities later said they would start going after graft by ordinary government employees, Reuters reported.
The widening crackdown now underway by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is his boldest act yet in his quest for power. As many as 20 princes have been arrested for allegedly being part of a coup to overthrow MBS, who is now apparently poised to become king.
It has bigger implications for the stability of the kingdom than both the purge of up to 500 members of Saudi Arabia’s business elite in the Ritz Carlton on alleged corruption charges on 4 November 2017, and the state ordered murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul a year later.
At least two members of the Bayaa, or Allegiance Council, which determines the succession to the Saudi throne, have been arrested as part of the purge.
Among them are Prince Ahmed; his son Prince Nayef bin Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, head of Land Forces Intelligence and Security Authority; the former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef; and his half brother Nawaf.
Ahmed’s son is the highest ranking member of the Saudi armed
forces known to be arrested so far.
According to a regional source cited by Reuters, MBS "accused them of conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat”.
An anti-corruption body known as Nazaha tweeted on Sunday that it had arrested and would indict 298 people on crimes including bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million).
Among those implicated were eight defense ministry officers suspected of bribery and money laundering in relation to government contracts during the years 2005-2015, and 29 interior ministry officials in the Eastern Province, including three colonels, a major general and a brigadier general.
Two judges were also detained for receiving bribes, along with nine officials accused of corruption at Riyadh’s Al Maarefa University, which resulted in severe damage to a building and caused deaths and injuries, Nazaha said.
The agency provided no names and few other details about the cases.
The current purge comes at a critical junction for MBS.
Unlike in November 2017, when he launched his first purge against the business elite when the crown prince was at the height of his popularity, and known both inside the kingdom and without as a reformer, MBS is hated more than ever in his family.
More than 18 months later, the crown prince’s reforms are quagmired, the price of crude oil has dropped after Russia refused last week to cut production, and discontent is mounting in the kingdom over the crown prince’s decision to seal the holy sites in Mecca and Medina from all pilgrims for Umrah - just months before the Hajj is due to start - over the coronavirus outbreak.