2017 Saudi Arabian purge
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, head of the Saudi Anti-Corruption Committee which ordered the arrests
A number of prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and business people were arrested in Saudi Arabia in November 2017 following the creation of an anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MbS).
There are three alternate theories regarding the motives behind the purge: a genuine corruption crackdown, a project to gain money, or preparing to take over the crown.
The detainees were confined at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh (which hosted the announcement for the planned city of Neom on 24 October 2017), which subsequently stopped accepting new bookings and told guests to leave. Private jets were also grounded to prevent suspects from fleeing the country.
The arrests resulted in the final sidelining of the faction of the late King Abdullah and MbS's complete consolidation of control of all three branches of the security forces, making him the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia since his grandfather, the first King, Ibn Saud.
As many as 500 people have been rounded up in the ongoing sweep. Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 2,000 domestic accounts as part of the crackdown. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Saudi government is targeting cash and assets worth up to $800 billion. The Saudi authorities claimed that amount is composed of assets worth around $300 billion to $400 billion that they can prove was linked to corruption.
Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Motjeb said in a statement that the arrests were “merely the start of a vital process to root out corruption wherever it exists.” He added that those detained will have access to legal counsel and pledges to hold trials “in a timely and open manner.” Meanwhile, King Salman appointed 26 new judges.
MbS stated that “We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement...About 1 percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court.” When asked about reports of cash and assets totaling $800 billion that belong to the people accused of corruption, the official said, "Even if we get 100 billion back, that would be good."
The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials, and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.
King Salman stated that the anti-corruption committee need to "identify offences, crimes and persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption". He also referred to the "exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to illicitly accrue money".
On 24 October 2017 Crown Prince Mohammed who ordered the arrests, told investors in Riyadh that "We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world". He also pledged to counter "extremism very soon".
List of involved people
Those arrested, detained, or removed from their posts include, but are not limited to:
- Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, billionaire businessman (Released 27 January 2018, according to Agence France-Presse)
- Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Saud, former deputy defense minister
- Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, former head of Saudi Arabian National Guard and son of former King Abdullah. He is seen as the most powerful of those arrested.
- Prince Turki bin Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh Province
- Prince Turki bin Nasser Al Saud, former head of the presidency of meteorology and environment
- The fate of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, youngest son of King Fahd, is uncertain. There were rumors that Abdul Aziz, age 44, was killed while resisting arrest, but the Saudi information ministry released a statement saying that the prince was "alive and well."
- Adel Fakeih, former Economy and Planning Minister
- Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan, Royal Saudi Navy Commander
- Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, former finance minister
- Khaled al-Tuwaijri, former head of royal court
- Mohammad al-Tobaishi, former head of protocol at the Royal Court
- Abdulrahman Fakieh, businessman
- Amr Al-Dabbagh, businessman, CEO of Al-Dabbagh Group (ADG)
- Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group and half-brother of Osama bin Laden
- Khalid Abdullah Almolhem, former head of Saudi Arabian Airlines
- Loai Nasser, prominent businessman
- Mansour al-Balawi, prominent businessman
- Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, billionaire businessman
- Nasser Al Tayyar, businessman, non-executive board member Al Tayyar Travel Group
- Saleh Abdullah Kamel, billionaire businessman, owner of Arab Radio and Television Network and founder of the Dallah al Baraka Group
- Saoud al-Daweesh, former chief executive of Saudi Telecom Company
- Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, billionaire businessman, brother-in-law of King Fahd, Chairman of Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC)
- Zuhair Fayez, prominent businessman
According to Sam Blatteis, Middle East Public Policy Manager for Deloitte and a former Google head of public policy in the Persian Gulf, "This is the closest thing in the Middle East to glasnost"; other businessmen have compared the purge to Russian president Vladimir Putin's politically-motivated attacks on Russian oligarchs. The Economist has likened the purge to the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. Thomas Friedman at The New York Times called it Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring.
The 2017 purge of the Saudi political and business elite was followed in 2018 by arrests of 17 women's rights activists, including Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Mana and Madeha al-Ajroush as well as Hatoon al-Fassi, a women's rights activist and associate professor of women's history. Eastern Province human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham and her husband, already in prison since December 2015, were under legal threat of beheading along with four colleagues, with a final hearing to take place on 28 October 2018 in the Specialized Criminal Court.
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Eleven princes and dozens of former ministers were detained ... The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts.
- AFP (January 27, 2018). "Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed freed after 'settlement'". Agence France-Presse. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
The prince was released following an undisclosed financial agreement with the government, similar to deals that authorities struck with most other detainees in exchange for their freedom.
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