Money laundering, bribery and extorting officials are among the allegations made against dozens of Saudi government officials and businessmen detained in a vast anti-corruption investigation.
The details emerged along with the names of more senior figures caught up in the crackdown by a new committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Among those arrested were Nasser bin Aqeel Al Tayyar, founder of one of the country’s largest travel companies, Al Tayyar Travel, and Sheikh Mansour Al Balawi, former president of Saudi Arabian sports club Al Ittihad.
Sabq, a Saudi-based online newspaper close to the government, reported that both men were detained as part of an investigation that has rocked the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said in an interview on CNN on Sunday that “there are good reasons for the detentions”, adding: “For a better future, we need transparency.”
Along with allegations of money laundering and bribery, the accusations against the dozens of senior figures include extorting officials and taking advantage of their high-ranking positions for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters.
Some of those detained were held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, while others were held at other five-star hotels in the capital, reported The Associated Press
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s most prominent tycoons, and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, head of the Saudi National Guard and son of the late King Abdullah, were also reportedly detained as part of the investigation.
Prince Alwaleed has been accused of money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, the Saudi official told Reuters. Prince Miteb has been accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own companies – including a US$10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals.
Other detainees include former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah – who has been accused of corruption in the Riyadh Metro project and taking advantage of his influence to award contracts to his own companies.
The former finance minister Ibrahim Al Assaf is accused of embezzlement related to the expansion of Mecca's Grand Mosque and taking advantage of his position and inside information to purchase lands.
However, the government has yet to officially disclose the names of the suspects or issue an official statement on the nature of the accusations.
Okaz, one of the country’s leading newspapers, welcomed the formation of the new committee, challenging those detained to disclose the sources of their assets on its front page: “Where did you get this? Remember the 4th of November”.
Saudi-owned Al Hayat newspaper’s front page read: “Saudi Arabia: No position higher than justice.”
Pan-Arab Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper said that a no-fly list was drawn and authorities at Saudi airports have “implemented new strict measures pertaining to the private jets of some people”.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Centre for International Communication – which is affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and Information – said that funds that are proven to be linked to corruption cases will be reimbursed to the public treasury.
Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, attorney general of Saudi Arabia and member of the new anti-corruption committee, said all those detained are innocent until proven guilty.
“Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and everyone’s legal rights will be preserved,” he said in a statement released by the Saudi Centre for International Communication.
“The suspects are being granted the same rights and treatment as any other Saudi citizen. A suspect’s position or status does not influence the firm and fair application of justice.
“During the investigation, all parties retain full legal privileges relating to their personal and private property, including funds.”
The governor of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, Ibrahim Al Omar, said the formation of the anti-corruption commission was a “vital step in creating a fair and level playing field for all potential investors”.
He added: “This is a clear sign that the kingdom is ready to protect companies’ and individuals’ investments from legally reprehensible actions.”
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 a 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”.
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,” Crown Prince Mohammed said in a television interview.
The Saudi government said that the anti-corruption crackdown is part of larger efforts to ensure transparency, openness, accountability and good governance.