Saudis charged with corruption seek to come clean

In Saudi Arabia's massive anti-corruption sweep, the vast majority of businessmen and officials implicated have agreed to financial settlements, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has told The New York Times.

The New York Times on Friday quoted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying that 95 percent of the Saudi princes, businessmen and officials implicated in his anti-corruption crackdown "agree to a settlement" when shown "all the files that we have."

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Politics | 09.11.2017

"About 1 percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court," the new Saudi strongman told the American newspaper.

Read more: Opinion: Mohammed bin Salman pursues power in Saudi Arabia

The settlements would include signing over cash or shares in their companies to the Saudi Treasury, he added as he repeated a previous official estimate that the government could eventually recover up to $100 billion (€84.4 billion) of illicit money through settlements.

Politics | 07.11.2017

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

Formation of an anti-corruption committee

Dozens of princes, former ministers and prominent businessmen have been detained across Saudi Arabia in an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign. The arrests happened after King Salman ordered the creation of an anti-corruption committee, headed by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

Reforming the country or silencing potential rivals?

The newly formed committee possesses wide ranging powers, including the ability to issue arrest warrants, freeze assets and impose travel bans. Saudi Arabia's crown prince has vowed to fight corruption in the world's top oil exporter. Thirty-two-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud is widely regarded as the driving force behind opening up the ultra-conservative country.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

One of Middle East’s richest in hot waters

One of the arrested, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is a billionaire and business tycoon who has extensive investments in Western companies such as Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Citigroup, the Four Seasons hotel chains and the ride sharing service Lyft. One of the Middle East's richest persons, Prince Alwaleed, is also known for being one of the most outspoken Saudi royals.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

'Homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted'

The detainees include ex-finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf and former head of the royal court Khaled al-Tuwaijri. Three former state officials were also sacked earlier before being detained. "The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable," said a royal degree connected to the arrests.

Saudi Arabia: Reforms or just power games?

Too much happening too quickly

In other developments, the Saudi monarch removed the prominent prince in charge of the National Guard. The development followed the resignation of a close ally, Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri. These political developments further shake up Saudi Arabia and the greater Middle East as regional conflicts rage on the kingdom's borders.

Scores of wealthy Saudi nationals, including members of the royal family, are currently being held in Riyadh's opulent Ritz Carlton hotel as their cases are processed.

The government has said that it questioned 208 people in the crackdown and released seven without charge. Over 2,000 Saudi bank accounts have been frozen during the probe, causing concern that the crackdown could damage the economy.

Rooting out corruption

The confinements at the Ritz Carlton hotel started this month after King Salman formed an anti-corruption commission headed by his heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption at the top," the Crown Prince told the newspaper.

Read more: Saudi Arabia carries out major purge, cementing crown prince's power

But the arrests, which include Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men, prompted a sell-off in the Arab countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), wiping billions from stock markets in the region.

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Prince Mohammed insisted that the companies of detained businessmen would continue operating normally. "We have experts making sure no businesses are bankrupted in the process," he told the Times.

The Saudi leader, however, admitted that it was impossible to root out corruption completely from "top to the bottom," but added that his action was a signal saying "you will not escape."

Saudi business people who paid bribes to get services done by bureaucrats were not being prosecuted, he explained, adding: "It's those who shook the money out of the government" — by overcharging and getting kickbacks.

In the interview, the Saudi crown prince also dismissed as "ludicrous" suggestions that the crackdown aimed to strengthen his political power, noting that prominent people held at the Ritz had already publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms. "A majority of the royal family" was behind him, he said.

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Business | 07.11.2017

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uhe/tr (Reuters)