- Saudi Crackdown Widens as More Bank Accounts Said Frozen
Saudi Arabia’s surprise crackdown, which led to the arrests of princes, billionaires and officials over the weekend, is expanding beyond those previously detained in what authorities described as an anti-corruption drive.
The central bank ordered banks in the kingdom to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals who aren’t under arrest, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. Already, as much as $33 billion in personal wealth belonging to the richest detainees has been put at risk.
More may be on the way: The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority sent a list of hundreds of names to lenders, telling them to freeze any accounts linked to them, two of the people said. They asked not to be identified because the information is private. No reason has been given for the actions and central-bank officials didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
The weekend arrest of princes, officials and billionaires, included Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a shareholder in such global companies as Citigroup Inc. and Apple Inc., has reverberated across board rooms and financial institutions in the biggest Arab economy and globally. Saudi stocks fell.
The move also drew support from President Donald Trump but raised concern among analysts that a power grab was underway. In all, 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers and well-known businessmen were taken into custody, according to Saudi media and a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The arrests were under the auspices of an anti-corruption commission that King Salman set up on Saturday, headed by his son and heir, Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The king also dismissed Prince Miteb bin Abdullah from his post as head of the powerful National Guard, taking out one of the last princes who had survived a series of cabinet reshuffles promoting allies of the crown prince.
The Saudi attorney general said in a statement released Monday that weekend arrests of princes, businessmen and officials were only “phase one” of the anti-corruption drive. The benchmark Tadawul All Share Index dropped 1.9 percent, with Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding plummeting 10 percent at 2:14 p.m. in Riyadh.
Trump gave his backing to the royal roundup in a tweet Tuesday morning from Japan.
“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” the president said.
A senior Saudi official denied the crackdown had any other purpose than to fight corruption. The accused “will be subject to investigation according to the regular procedures adopted in the Kingdom,” he said.
According to the official, the charges against Prince Alwaleed include money laundering, bribery and extortion of some officials. Prince Miteb is charged with embezzlement, fraudulent employment and the awarding of projects to his own companies. Another royal family member, Prince Turki bin Abdullah is accused of corruption related to massive train project, using his influence to win projects for companies affiliated to himself, the official said.