Dozens of princes, senior military officers, businessmen and top officials, including a royal billionaire, have been arrested as part of a sweeping anti- corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia.
An employee of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company confirmed the royal, who is one of the world’s richest men, was among those detained overnight on Saturday. The company’s share price fell nearly 9 per cent in trading yesterday on the Saudi stock exchange.
The surprise arrests, which also reportedly include two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, were hailed by pro- government media outlets as the clearest sign yet that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is keeping his promise to reform the country, which has long been plagued by allegations of corruption at the highest levels of government.
Analysts have suggested the arrest of once-untouchable members of the royal family is the latest sign the 32-year-old crown prince is moving to quash potential rivals and critics.
Mohammed’s swift rise to power has unnerved more experienced, elder members of the ruling Al Saud family.
King Salman named his son, the crown prince, as head of an anti-corruption committee established late on Saturday, just hours before its arrest of top officials.
A Saudi government official with close ties to security said 11 princes and 38 others are being held in five-star hotels across the capital Riyadh.
The scale of the arrests is unprecedented in Saudi Arabia, where royals and their business associates were seen as operating above the law.
Saudis have long complained of rampant corruption in government and of public funds being squandered or misused by those in power. Shortly before the arrests, King Salman had ousted Prince Miteb bin Abdullah from his post as head of the National Guard.
The prince is reportedly among those detained, along with his brother, Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who was once governor of Riyadh. Both are sons of the late King Abdullah, who ruled before King Salman, his half-brother. Prince Miteb was once considered a contender for the throne.
Saudi Twitter accounts released other names of those arrested. They included Alwalid al-Ibrahim – a Saudi businessman with ties to the royal family who runs the Arabic satellite group MBC – and Amr al-Dabbagh, who was the former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
Former finance minister Ibrahim Assaf and Saudi Binladin Group head Bakr Binladin are also under arrest.
Reports suggested those detained were being held in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh. An earlier crackdown on perceived critics of the crown prince included clerics, writers, lesser-known princes and Saudi figures popular on social media.
James Dorsey, a Gulf specialist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said: “The dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed, rather than forging alliances, is extending his iron grip to the ruling family, the military and the National Guard to counter what appears to be more widespread opposition within the family as well as the military to his reforms and the Yemen war.”
Saudi Arabia said late on Saturday that it had intercepted a ballistic missile fired from Yemen at Riyadh International Airport.
The crown prince, as defence minister, oversees the stalemated war against Yemen’s Iranian-allied rebels.
The finance ministry said the crackdown“opens a new era of transparency and accountability” and would improve the kingdom’s investment climate.