Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers and billionaire investor in extraordinary purge

Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers and billionaire investor in extraordinary purge

Saudi Arabia detains princes
In this 2014 file photo, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal attends a cultural festival in Riyadh. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kareem Fahim

ISTANBUL — (Washingtonpost) –Saudi authorities arrested royal family members, sitting cabinet ministers and former government officials in an extraordinary purge on Saturday that reportedly included the arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor who owns major stakes in companies like Twitter and Citigroup.

Saudi officials and loyalist media outlets framed the detentions as part of an ambitious new initiative to root out graft in the kingdom. But it also appeared to be part of an ongoing effort by the country’s ambitious crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to consolidate power by eliminating rivals or critics in the event that his father, King Salman, abdicates the throne.

News of the arrests was announced by the state news agency and the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel, which said in a report late Saturday that 11 princes, four current ministers as well as “tens” of former ministers had been arrested on the orders of Prince Mohammed, who was named by his father as the head a new anti-corruption committee.

The announcements carried few names, but a senior Saudi official, speaking anonymously to the Reuters news agency, said Alwaleed was among those detained. The reasons for his arrest were not immediately clear: The prince, who is the founder of the business conglomerate Kingdom Holding and one of the world’s most prominent investors, had been at least publicly supportive of the current Saudi leadership, as well as its controversial intervention in Yemen’s civil wars.

Saudi officials did not immediately answer calls seeking comment.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh on Oct. 24, 2017. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

The detentions came at a time of extraordinary political, social and economic upheaval in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that is closely allied with the Trump administration and is a dominant power in the Middle East. Saudi leaders have embarked on a widely-publicized drive to modernize the kingdom, including by relaxing social restrictions in the ultraconservative kingdom and liberalizing its oil-dependent economy.

Last week in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, a lavish conference that was intended to lure international investment to the country featured robots as well as planned, futuristic megaprojects

In tandem with the reform drive, the leadership has sidelined potential challengers from rival branches of the royal family and cracked down on dissidents, arresting dozens of people, including clerics, in the last few months alone. The officials detained on Saturday included Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the head of the elite Saudi national guard and a favored son of King Abdullah, the predecessor of the current king, who died in 2015.

The measures are widely seen as easing the path to the throne for the 32-year-old crown prince — the steward of the domestic reforms as well as the architect of an increasingly muscular and confrontational Saudi foreign policy that has prioritized combating the influence of Iran, the kingdom’s archrival.

In the last few years, Saudi Arabia has led a military campaign in neighboring Yemen against a rebel group that Saudi officials regard as an Iranian proxy force. The war has killed more than 10,000 Yemeni civilians and is effectively a stalemate: On Saturday, the rebels, known as the Houthis, fired a ballistic missile that reached Riyadh in their deepest strike yet inside Saudi territory.

Saudi Arabia has also led a coalition of Arab states in a boycott of Qatar, a neighboring Persian Gulf country, in a rift that has sharply divided the Trump Administration’s closest Arab allies.

A royal decree, carried on the website of the Saudi state news agency on Saturday, said the crown prince would lead a newly-formed committee that had been granted broad powers to root out public corruption, including the ability to issue arrest warrants, impose travel bans and freeze bank accounts.

Factbox: Saudi Arabia Detains Princes, Ministers in Anti-Corruption Probe

By REUTERS

DUBAI — Saudi Arabia detained 11 princes, four current ministers and tens of former ministers in a probe by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported.

According to a senior Saudi official who declined to be identified under briefing rules, those detained include:

– Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding

– Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, minister of the National Guard

– Prince Turki bin Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh province

– Khalid al-Tuwaijri, former chief of the Royal Court

– Adel Fakeih, Minister of Economy and Planning

– Ibrahim al-Assaf, former finance minister

– Abdullah al-Sultan, commander of the Saudi navy

– Bakr bin Laden, chairman of Saudi Binladin Group

– Mohammad al-Tobaishi, former head of protocol at the Royal Court

– Amr al-Dabbagh, former governor of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority

– Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of television network MBC

– Khalid al-Mulheim, former director-general at Saudi Arabian Airlines

– Saoud al-Daweesh , former chief executive of Saudi Telecom

– Prince Turki bin Nasser, former head of the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment

– Prince Fahad bin Abdullah bin Mohammad al-Saud, former deputy defence minister

– Saleh Kamel, businessman

– Mohammad al-Amoudi, businessman