Top Saudi entrepreneur, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar joined the long list of detainees today as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hauled more royals, ministers and businessmen into prison in an unprecedented crackdown over allegations of corruption.
Following news of the arrests, the Saudi stock index initially fell 1.5 percent in early trade but closed effectively flat, which asset managers attributed to buying by government-linked funds.
Al Tayyar Travel plunged 10 percent in the opening minutes after the company quoted media reports as saying board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar had been detained in the anti-corruption drive.
Saudi Aseer Trading, Tourism and Manufacturing and Red Sea International separately reported normal operations after the reported detentions of board members Abdullah Saleh Kamel, Khalid al-Mulheim and Amr al-Dabbagh.
Saudi banks have begun freezing suspects’ accounts, sources told Reuters.
Dozens of people have been detained in the crackdown, which have alarmed much of the traditional business establishment. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s best-known international investor, is also being held.
The attorney general said on Monday detainees had been questioned and “a great deal of evidence” had been gathered.
“Yesterday does not represent the start, but the completion of Phase One of our anti-corruption push,” Saud al-Mojeb said. Probes were done discreetly “to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure there was no flight from justice.”
Investigators had been collecting evidence for three years and would “continue to identify culprits, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions and bring offenders to justice”, anti-graft committee member Khalid bin Abdulmohsen Al-Mehaisen said.
Saudi billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was among the first set of detainees that the attorney general described as “phase one”.
The purge is the latest in a series of dramatic steps by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert Saudi influence internationally and amass more power for himself at home.
The campaign lengthens an already daunting list of challenges undertaken by the 32-year-old since his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015, including going to war in Yemen, cranking up Riyadh’s confrontation with arch-foe Iran and reforming the economy to lessen its reliance on oil.
Both allies and adversaries are quietly astounded that a kingdom once obsessed with stability has acquired such a taste for assertive – some would say impulsive – policy-making.
A no-fly list has been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit, pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat said.
Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials.
“It’s mostly princes from the previous system who made a lot of money in business. That’s the common denominator,” Steffen Hertog of the London School of Economics told Reuters.
“Perhaps they can’t go after all at the same time so possibly ones who are least popular or have a beef with the current leadership (have been held). It’s pretty systematic.”
The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extortion and taking advantage of public office for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters. Those accusations could not be independently verified and family members of those detained could not be reached.
The new anti-corruption committee has the power to seize assets at home and abroad before the results of its investigations are known. Investors worry the crackdown could ultimately result in forced sales of equities, but the extent of the authorities’ intentions was not immediately clear.
Among those detained is Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was replaced as minister of the National Guard, a pivotal power base rooted in the kingdom’s tribes. That recalled a palace coup in June which ousted his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne.
The moves consolidate Prince Mohammed’s control of the internal security and military institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family.
Consultancy Eurasia Group said the “clearly politicized” anti-corruption campaign was a step toward separating the Al Saud family from the state: “Royal family members have lost their immunity, a long standing golden guarantee”.
Yet many analysts were puzzled by the targeting of technocrats like ousted Economy Minister Adel Faqieh and prominent businessmen on whom the kingdom is counting to boost the private sector and wean the economy off oil.