International News

Saudi Arabia corruption probe arrests rise to more than 200

Saudi Arabia said more than 200 people had now been detained as part of an anti-graft crackdown into at least $100bn in “systematic corruption and embezzlement” going back decades.
Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, the kingdom’s attorney-general, said on Thursday that the probe launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s new anti-corruption committee was “proceeding quickly” and that seven of the 208 people arrested since Saturday had been released without charge.
The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large,” Sheikh Mojeb said. “The evidence for this wrongdoing is very strong and confirms the original suspicions which led the Saudi Arabian authorities to begin the investigation in the first place.
 He also confirmed that he had asked Saudi Arabia’s central bank this week to suspend the personal bank accounts of “persons of interest” in the investigation.
A similar request was made on Thursday by the central bank of the United Arab Emirates, which called on banks in the Gulf state to provide information on accounts, deposits and transfers related to 19 Saudis implicated in the crackdown, bankers say.
The Gulf state’s regulator has asked local and foreign banks to disclose if they have credit facilities and safety deposit boxes in the names of those who were arrested, including billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, son of the former king.
The request, issued via a central bank notice seen by the Financial Times, suggests that the Saudi graft probe is extending beyond the kingdom’s banking system to the UAE, the region’s financial hub, where many Saudis invest and keep deposits.
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The UAE, a close Saudi ally, is part of the Riyadh-led coalition waging war on Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. Both countries also lead a boycott of Qatar, accusing their neighbour of supporting terrorism.
The Saudi corruption crackdown has sent shockwaves around the region since it was launched on Saturday. Princes, prominent businessmen and former ministers face a range of accusations including money laundering, bribery, extortion and channelling government contracts to companies linked to the suspects.
The Saudi attorney-general said on Thursday that authorities would not reveal the names of those under investigation to “ensure that the individuals continue to enjoy the full legal rights afforded to them under Saudi law” and asked to respect their privacy.
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The clampdown has alarmed local and international investors, forcing the government to release a series of statements to calm regional markets.
Bankers in the UAE said the central bank notice could be a precursor for moves to freeze the UAE assets of the Saudi suspects. The central bank notice requires banks to provide detailed reports, including account statements and transfer slips.
There seems to be an inter-regulatory discussion to gather some information and to collaborate on restrictions in the UAE,” said one banker aware of the notice. “This could end up in the situation where we have to freeze or block assets. But nothing for now.
Compliance officers said the central bank notice, which applies to UAE-based banks, exchange houses and finance companies, could be extended to global institutions operating in the federation’s offshore financial centres, such as the Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Market.
Earlier this year, the central bank asked lenders to carry out enhanced due diligence on Qatari banks in the wake of the UAE’s measures to isolate Doha.
The regulator at the DIFC, the region’s largest financial centre, followed suit, requiring financial institutions at the centre to follow the same procedures.