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Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed

From Reuters - November 5, 2017

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabias future king has tightened his grip on power through an anti-corruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors including billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal who is one of the kingdoms most prominent businessmen.

Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of the king and owner of investment firm Kingdom Holding 4280.SE, invests in firms such as Citigroup (C.N) and Twitter (TWTR.N). He was among 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers detained, three senior officials told Reuters on Sunday.

The purge against the kingdoms political and businesselite also targeted the head of the National Guard Prince Miteb bin Abdullah who was detained and replaced as minister of the powerful National Guard by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf.

News of the purge came early on Sunday after King Salman decreed the creation of an anti-corruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his 32-year-old favorite son who has amassed power since rising from obscurity three years ago.

The new body was given broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and seize assets.

The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable, the royal decree said.

Analysts say the arrests were another pre-emptive measure by the crown prince to remove powerful figures as he exerts control over the worlds leading oil exporter.

The round-up recalls the palace coup in June through which he ousted his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne and interior minister.

MbS, as he is known, was expected to follow at least by removing Prince Miteb from leadership of the National Guard, a pivotal power-base rooted in the kingdoms tribes.

Over the past year MbS has become the ultimate decision-maker for the kingdoms military, foreign, economic and social policies, causing resentment among parts of the Al Saud dynasty frustrated by his meteoric rise.

Saudi Arabias stock index .TASI was dragged down briefly but recovered to close higher as some investors bet the crackdown could bolster reforms in the long run.

The royal decree said the arrests were in response to exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.

REFORM AGENDA

The line between public funds and royal money is not always clear in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled by an Islamic system in which most law is not systematically codified and no elected parliament exists.

WikiLeaks cables have detailed the huge monthly stipends that every Saudi royal receives as well as various money-making schemes some have used to finance lavish lifestyles.

Analysts said the purge aimed to go beyond corruption and aimed to remove potential opposition to Prince Mohammeds ambitious reform agenda which is widely popular with Saudi Arabias burgeoning youth population but faces resistance from some of the old guard more comfortable with the kingdoms traditions of incremental change and rule by consensus.

In September, the king announced that a ban on women driving would be lifted, while Prince Mohammed is trying to break decades of conservative tradition by promoting public entertainment and visits by foreign tourists.

The crown prince has also slashed state spending in some areas and plans a big sale of state assets, including floating part of state oil giant Saudi Aramco [IPO-ARMO.SE] on international markets.

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