Dozens of Saudi government officials and businessmen have been detained in an anti-corruption crackdown, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s most prominent tycoons.
The arrests came shortly after a new anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was formed by a royal decree.
The crown prince warned earlier this year that anyone guilty of corruption would be punished. “No one is above the law whether it is a prince or a minister”, Prince Mohammed said in a television interview.
Prince Alwaleed and head of the Saudi National Guard Prince Miteb bin Abdullah — son of the late King Abdullah and once a leading contender to the throne — were detained as part of the probe, Reuters said.
The report added that commander of the Saudi navy Abdullah bin Sultan and the ministry of economy and planning, Adel bin Mohammed Faqih — both of whom were sacked on Saturday — were among those held for questioning.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said that "11 princes, tens of former ministers and four current ministers were arrested", but it did not disclose any names.
Bloomberg quoted a senior Saudi official as saying that 11 princes and 38 current or former senior officials were arrested.
"The suspects are being granted the same rights and treatment as any other Saudi citizen," attorney general Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said, adding that a number of investigations had been initiated. "A suspect's position or status does not influence the firm and fair application of justice."
Those detained included a number of government officials including Prince Turki bin Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh province, Khalid Al Tuwaijri, former chief of the Royal Court and Ibrahim Al Assaf, former finance minister, according list published by Reuters.
Other names listed were of businessmen, including Bakr bin Laden, chairman of Saudi Binladin Group, Alwaleed Al Ibrahim, owner of television network MBC, and Khalid Al Mulheim, former director general at Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Prince Alwaleed controls Kingdom Holding and is one of the world’s richest men. The 62-year-old is one of the largest shareholders in Citigroup and also owns stakes in News Corp and Twitter.
Shares in Kingdom Holding plunged 9.9 per cent on Sunday morning.
The arrest of Prince Alwaleed — King Salman’s nephew — comes as a surprise. He has expressed support to the king and halted plans to invest in Iran in 2016, when Riyadh cut all ties with Tehran.
Kingdom Holding did not respond to requests for comment from The National.
Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that it established a "supreme committee" to investigate public corruption.
The committee’s goal was to “preserve public money, punish corrupt people and those who exploit their positions”, according to the royal decree.
“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” the royal decree said.
The commission will also be responsible for launching “investigations, issuing arrest warrants, travel bans, disclosing and freezing bank accounts and tracking funds”.
Al Arabiya said the anti-corruption probe was investigating the response to flooding in Jeddah in 2009 that killed 120 people, as well as the government's handling of a Coronavirus outbreak.
At least some of the detainees were held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, Reuters reported.
The kingdom's top council of clerics was quick to throw its support behind the royal decree, tweeting shortly after the announcement: “Fighting corruption is an obligation in Islamic sharia [law], a requirement of national interest, and combating it is just as important as the fight against terrorism.”
Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture and information Awad bin Saleh also praised the royal decree establishing the new anti-corruption commission, the Saudi Press Agency said.
He said the Saudi Arabian leadership is “keen to protect public money and eradicate corruption, which hampers the economy and society”, adding the decree was a “clear message” that no one can escape justice if they are proven to be involved in corruption.