A Saudi Arabian official estimated that at least $100 billion of funds have been misused through “systemic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” as authorities widened a declared crackdown on corruption that’s targeted some of the kingdom’s wealthiest and most powerful men.
Attorney General Saud Al Mojeb said Thursday that a total of 208 people had been called in for questioning and seven had been released without charge.
“The potential scale of corrupt practices that have been uncovered is very large,” Al Mojeb said in a statement. “The evidence for this wrongdoing is very strong, and confirms the original suspicions that led the Saudi Arabian authorities to begin the investigation in the first place.”
So far the government has arrested 11 princes and dozens of current and former officials and prominent businessmen, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was dismissed as head of the National Guard. The government has also frozen hundreds of bank accounts as part of the purge, which some analysts view as a power grab, and not simply a crackdown on graft as authorities insist.
Given the scale of the allegations, Saudi authorities have been empowered to suspend personal bank accounts, but no others, Al Mojeb said in the statement on Thursday. “Companies and banks are free to continue with transactions as usual,” he said.
Some of the kingdom’s wealthiest men are moving assets out of the region to avoid the risk of getting caught up in the sweep, according to six people with knowledge of the matter.
They’re selling investments in neighboring Gulf countries and turning them into cash or liquid holdings overseas, and taking action to move money outside the kingdom, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.