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The Journal Gazette

Friday, November 10, 2017 1:00 am

Saudis detain dozens more in anti-corruption sweep

Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Dozens more people have been taken into custody by Saudi authorities, the kingdom said Thursday, bringing to 201 the number detained in a sweep that investigators say has uncovered at least $100 billion in corruption.

Saudi critics and experts have called the unprecedented purge of top princes and businessmen a bold and risky move by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at consolidating power as he casts his eye toward the throne, sidelining potential rivals and dismantling alliances built with other branches of the royal family.

The sweep comes at a time of increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the ongoing conflict and suffering in Yemen and a newly erupting political crisis in Lebanon.

Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb said 208 people had been called in for questioning, and that seven were released without charge, leaving 201 in custody.

The figure is the first reported by the government and far larger than what was previously known, reflecting a series of arrests throughout the week. The purge began overnight Saturday, initially catching 11 princes and 38 officials, military officers and business leaders.

The 32-year-old crown prince, who is the son of King Salman and is popularly known by his initials MBS, is leading the investigation as head of a newly formed anti-corruption committee.

Among those detained are billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and two sons of the late King Abdullah, including Prince Miteb, who until Saturday had headed the powerful National Guard. Several years ago, he was considered a contender for the throne and was recently believed to be opposed to MBS becoming crown prince.

Saudis have complained for years of rampant corruption and misuse of public funds by top officials in a system where nepotism is also widespread.

In recent years, Saudi families have also had to contend with austerity measures that have driven up costs while simultaneously being told they can no longer count on cushy government jobs.

Meanwhile, members of the sprawling royal family and their business associates had long been seen as operating above the law. Members of the royal family receive undisclosed monthly stipends from state coffers built up over years of high oil prices.

Faisal Abbas, the Saudi editor-in-chief of the daily Arab News, wrote in a widely shared column this week that the kingdom is “damned if it acts against corruption, damned if it doesn't.”

While few would argue against allegations that some top princes and officials have enriched themselves during years in power, the selection of who has been detained raises speculation that the purge is political.