Manama: “Laws will be applied firmly on everyone who touched public money and didn’t protect it or embezzled it, or abused their power and influence,” King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz said in comments shown on state TV. “This will be applied on those big and small, and we will fear no one.”
King Salman's comments came after Saudi Arabia detained 11 princes, four current ministers and tens of former ministers in a probe by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, a senior Saudi official who declined to be identified told Reuters.
Laws will be applied firmly on everyone who touched public money and didn’t protect it or embezzled it, or abused their power and influence. This will be applied on those big and small, and we will fear no one.”
Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, was removed from his post as head of the powerful National Guards and billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal was picked up at his desert camp, the senior official said.
Authorities did not disclose the evidence that prompted the arrests but said the suspects are under investigation and were innocent until proven guilty.
Prince Miteb was replaced by Prince Khalid Ayyaf, according to a royal decree. Before his ouster, he was one of the few remaining senior royals to have survived a series of cabinet shuffles that promoted allies of the crown prince, who is the direct heir to the throne.
The king also replaced Economy and Planning Minister Adel Fakeih with Mohammad Al Tuwaijri, his deputy.
Al Tuwaijri, formerly vice minister for economy and planning, had already played a key role in shaping Saudi economic and fiscal policy over the past year.
Before joining the government in May 2016, he was Middle East chief executive for HSBC Holding Plc. He’s served as a frequent spokesman for the government’s economic reform plan on TV and with Western journalists.
“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” the royal decree said.
An interview in May where Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman vowed that no one found guilty of corruption will be allowed to escape justice went viral yesterday as users reposted it.
“No one will be spared regardless of his position. Anyone found guilty will be held accountable whether he is a minister or a prince,” he had said.
No one will be spared regardless of his position. Anyone found guilty will be held accountable whether he is a minister or a prince.”
-Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman
Saudi social media users have hailed the move as a significant step towards greater transparency in the kingdom.
Some users said they were looking to the re-opening of files on incidents such as the Jeddah floods, in which dozens were killed. It had been alleged then that corruption and irregularities had played a part in disaster.
Al Arabiya reported that the anti-graft committee was also looking into the government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed several hundred people in the past few years.
“The move indicates a new phase in the fight against graft. There is no room for anyone who placed private interests above public interest and abused public funds without regard for religion, morals or conscience. The committee will not hesitate to track down anyone suspected of corrupt practices and to make them face the full force of the law,” the head of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Khalid Al Muhaisen said.
The crackdown on corruption came in the early hours on Sunday after King Salman decreed the creation of a new anti-corruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
The new body was given broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions and freeze assets.
Shaikh Saud Al Mojeb, the attorney general, said in a statement on Sunday that the accused would “retain full level privileges relating to their personal and private property, including funds.”
Meanwhile, the High Council of Scholars said praised the new committee.
“Fighting corruption is at as important as combating terrorism,” the council said.
Since he became Crown Prince in 2015, Prince Mohammad has announced plans to sell a stake in oil giant Saudi Aramco and create the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, and has ended some social constraints, including a long-standing ban on female drivers. Women will be allowed to drive in June 2018.
Saudi Arabia had been governed for decades by a loose consensus among an extended royal family, who had control over different government agencies which hindered attempts to reform the kingdom to reduce the economy’s reliance on oil.
Prince Mohammad is in charge of almost all the levers of government, from the Defence Ministry to the central bank and the oil giant Aramco, which bankrolls the country. He’s also announced ambitious plans to sell state businesses and cut the public payroll.
“These things are happening methodically and carefully with lots of pre-planning it seems,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “Some real political operators are mentoring this.”
With inputs from agencies