Saudi Arabia arrests senior officials involved in coronavirus corruption

One scam involved charging commission to hotels for contracts to house quarantined citizens at inflated rates

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At least three senior Saudi officials have been arrested along with other people for trying to profit illegally from the coronavirus outbreak in the kingdom, state media reported on Sunday.

Two of the officials worked in the health ministry and were involved in a scheme to overcharge the government for the hotel quarantine stays of citizens returning from abroad, said an official source in the Saudi anti-corruption agency Nazaha.

The officials, working with six other people including a hotel owner, charged "commissions" from hotels to obtain state contracts from the health ministry for the quarantine stays, the official told the Saudi Press Agency.

They colluded with a senior official in the tourism ministry who submitted inflated rates to the health ministry for the accommodation of those returning, causing a loss to the state, according to the anti-corruption agency.

The tourism ministry official had admitted to wrongdoing and wasting public funds, and legal proceedings have been started against all those involved, the Nazaha source told Spa.

Working with Riyadh police, the agency also uncovered a scheme involving expatriates to counterfeit movement permits that would allow the holders to bypass lockdowns imposed by the government to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Thirty-one permits were produced and were being sold for 3,000 riyals (Dh2,931) each.

The scheme involved a military employee at the interior ministry who colluded with a relative working at the health ministry to produce permits ostensibly issued by the defence ministry, Spa reported.

It said all those involved had been arrested by the Riyadh police.

The anti-corruption agency appealed for information on any other financial or administrative scams undermining the kingdom's efforts against the coronavirus.

It said such crimes carried no statute of limitations under the anti-corruption law, whereas those involved who reported such crimes before being caught could be exempt from punishment.