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Riyadh says 201 people held in anti-graft swoop

New tensions could escalate proxy conflict between Riyadh, Tehran

By AFP - Nov 10,2017 - Last updated at Nov 10,2017

A man speaks on the phone as he walks past posters depicting Saudi Arabia's King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday (Reuters photo by Faisal Al Nasser)

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia said on Thursday 201 people are being held for questioning over an estimated $100 billion in embezzlement and corruption, after the biggest purge of the kingdom's elite in its modern history.

Princes, ministers and a billionaire business tycoon were among dozens of high-profile figures arrested or sacked last weekend, as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman consolidates power.

The purge comes amid heightened regional tensions, with Saudi Arabia and Iran facing off over a missile attack from Yemen and a potential political crisis in Lebanon after prime minister Saad Hariri's shock resignation announced from Riyadh.

"A total of 208 individuals have been called in for questioning so far... Seven have been released without charge," the Saudi information ministry said in a statement.

Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned that assets related to the alleged 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 $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades."

High-profile figures, including billionaire tycoon Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, were arrested or sacked in the weekend crackdown — just after an anti-graft commission headed by the crown prince was established.

Prince Mohammed, the son of 81-year-old King Salman, is already seen as the country’s de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government.

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

The crackdown comes as he moves to accelerate his Vision 2030 programme to modernise the conservative kingdom, but also as Riyadh takes a more aggressive stance in its wider region.

In the wake of a failed missile attack against Riyadh airport on Saturday, which was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the kingdom has accused Tehran of “direct aggression”.

Iran vehemently dismissed the charge that it supplied missiles to the Houthis and warned Saudi Arabia of its “might”, prompting fresh acrimony between the regional heavyweights.

The tensions appear to be playing out in a new political crisis in Beirut.

On November 4, Hariri cited Iran’s “grip” on Lebanon and threats to his life when he announced his resignation in a televised speech from Riyadh, precipitating a new political crisis in Beirut.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible” and also called on them not to travel to the country, without specifying any threat.

The new tensions could escalate the proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides in wars and power struggles from Yemen to Syria.

 

 

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YES, ANY ACT OF CORRUPTION SHOULD BE INVESTIGATED AND ANY CRIME DISCOVERED SHOULD BE TREATED AS CRIME BUT THIS SHOULD NOT EXPLODE INTO CHAOS AND SPECULATIONS OF ANY WIDER CONFLICT BETWEEN BROTHERS, SISTERS, FAMILY AND FELLOW CITIZENS. THE STABILITY OF THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA IS SO IMPORTANT AND VITAL FOR THE REGION THAT ANY WORLD-WIDE ISSUE LIKE THIS COULD CAUSE CATASTROPHIC CONSEQUENCIES IN THE REGION. TWO WRONGS CAN NOT MAKE ANY RIGHT. THE KINGDOM IS THE CENTER OF GRAVITY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPEMENT AND STABILITY IN THAT REGION AND I PRAY THAT NONE OF THIS GETS OUT OF HAND. ARAB LEADERS SHOULD CONSIDER GETTING TOGETHER TO SETTLE ANY DISPUTE.

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