A new anti-corruption committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on October 4th sent a royal decree, dismissing a number of senior minsters and detaining nearly a dozen princes. The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.
The committee is investigating the response to flooding in the city of Jeddah that killed an estimated 500 people in 2009, although official reports from the Saudi government shrank the number of deaths to 100. The death toll was blamed on the lack of a developed sewage system and treatment facility, causing the water to rise without anywhere to drain. The Saudi government has repeatedly denied that sewage system failure played a role in the flooding.
Another investigation which is being conducted by the committee is on the government response to outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) which has killed hundreds of people in the past few years. Saudi health sources and international virologists said poor communication and a lack of accountability in government departments, inadequate state oversight and a failure to learn from past mistakes have all hindered the Saudi government to act against the virus. Again, the government revised the number of cases downward which allowed the virus to spread to as infected people continued to travel.
In 2015 another infrastructure failure of the government which resulted in killing more than 100 people and injuring another 238 was when a construction crane crashed through a roof of the grand mosque in Mecca.
Beyond these cases, the corruption probe, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was given broad powers to investigate cases other cases, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions, and seize assets of the allegedly corrupt individuals.
Within the royal decree said, “The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable.”
The probe has thus been used as a platform through which Prince Mohammed bin Salman has carried out an extensive purge of princes and senior ministers.
Some notable individuals include:
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of Kingdom Holding group. His estimated net worth is near $17 Billion. The Kingdom Holding group is one of the top investors in Saudi Arabia. Bin Talal has been detained on charges of money laundering, bribery and extorting officials.
Bin Talal is also one of the top shareholders in the banking giant, Citigroup. He has also had shares in Twitter, Apple, Motorola and Lyft, 21st Century Fox. Besides from holding large amounts of shares in he also owns the majority of Rotana Group, London’s Savoy Hotel, and owns 45% of the four-season hotels and resorts.
Bin Talal has also been a large donor to U.S. universities including Georgetown University. Georgetown’s Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Christian Muslim Understanding (CCMU), has a long history of associating with Islamist groups, including those with a history of links to terrorism or terror finance.
Saleh Abdullah Kamel, chairman of Dallah al Baraka Group, an investment group based in Jeddah. Shortly after 9/11 Kamel’s organization was allegedly linked to funding al Qaeda. Kamel has extensive business ties in Sudan, which was used as a base by bin Laden in the 1990s before he moved to Afghanistan. Kamel was also listed as an original investor and top shareholder in the al Shamal Islamic Bank of Khartoum, Sudan, which U.S. prosecutors say was used to funnel large amounts of money to al Qaeda operatives. Kamel was also known for donating to the Yale Law School, a $10 million-dollar gift to create a center “for the study of Islamic Law and Civilization.”
Mohammad al-Amoudi is an Ethiopian born Saudi citizen and owner of Corral Petroleum Holdings and MIDROC, both which are investment groups. Al-Amoudi was allegedly linked to terror financing, accused of providing an anonymous donation of $300,000 to the Islamic Assembly of North America, which federal prosecutors accused of endorsing terrorism. IANA was believed to have been involved in diverting funds to al-Qaeda. Al-Amoudi also had business ties to Sterling Management Group, a Herndon Virginia-based organization and part of the “Safa Group”, a network of interlocking non-profit and for-profit entities allegedly involved in funding Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups.
Bakr Bin Laden, owner and largest shareholder of the construction company Saudi Binladin Group as well as a half-brother of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Some of the Binladin Group’s construction projects include expansion of the Holy Mosque in Mecca, which can be linked to the crane incident in 2015, Jeddah’s international airport, as well as other airports in Cairo, Aden, Doha and Damascus. Following the crane accident, the Saudi government barred the company from new contracts, putting a damper on a previous tight relationship between the Binladin group and the Saudi royal family.
Saudi Binladin Group, in 2016 reportedly laid off 50,000 workers , as the company struggled with debt total more than $30 billion. Protests ignited a day after the company announced it was letting go of the workers, and they took to the streets setting multiple cars and buses on fire.
Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, minister of the National Guard, which is Saudi Arabia’s elite internal security force. Mitaab bin Abdullah was also thought to be one of the contenders for the throne. Prince Mitaab was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own private companies including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear. He was replaced by Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf Al Muqren.
Additionally, on November 6th Saudi prince Mansour bin Muqrin and several other Saudi officials were killed in a helicopter crash in the town of Abha near the country’s border with Yemen. The crash occurred as the announcement of the anti-corruption purge was under way. The cause of the crash is still unknown.
With the removal of these Saudi government and business leaders, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman significantly tightens his grip on authority.
The move comes as MBS is looking to continue implementing a modernization plan for Saudi Arabia known as Vision 2030. The Vision 2030 plan is intended to move the country’s economy away from an over-reliance on petroleum production. Such an economic change has necessitated social changes as well, such as the recent royal decree to permit women to drive, a change with roiled the extremely traditional Islamic society. As MBS continues to move towards implementing Vision 2030, it will be important to keep an eye on the Kingdom’s stability and the young Prince’s grip on power.