Saudi Arabia says 201 people detained in anti-graft swoop

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, shown here attending an investment forum in October, has launched a sweeping purge. AFP Photo

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said Thursday 201 people are being held for questioning in a massive anti-graft swoop on the elite, with at least $100 billion estimated to have been lost through corruption and embezzlement over several decades.

“A total of 208 individuals have been called in for questioning so far. Of those 208 individuals, seven have been released without charge,” the information ministry said in a statement.

Billionaire tycoon Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, dubbed Saudi Arabia’s Warren Buffett, was among dozens of high-profile figures arrested or sacked last weekend, in the biggest purge of the kingdom’s elite in its modern history.

Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned that assets related to the corruption cases would be seized as state property, as the government appears set to widen the crackdown.

“The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large,” the ministry said.

“Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least USD $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.”

The purge came just after an anti-graft commission headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was established on Saturday.

With the purge, which analysts describe as a bold but risky power play, Prince Mohammed has centralised power to a degree that is unprecedented in recent Saudi history. – AFP

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