Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge has widened after one of the country’s top businessmen was reportedly detained, accounts were frozen and a no-fly list was drawn up.
On Monday, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, a board member at Saudi Arabia’s biggest travel company, was reportedly added to the list detainees, which already included some of the country’s most influential officials and entrepreneurs.
Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the kingdom.
The dramatic steps were the latest in a series of measures by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its previous leaders.
On Saturday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.
In a statement via the Saudi Center of International Communication, Khalid bin Abdulmohsen Al-Mehaisen, president of the anti-corruption commission, said: “The evidence of transgressions and financial mismanagement uncovered recently points to widespread corruption in a number of cases.
“The responsibility of the new anti-corruption committee is to ensure that investigations into those cases are completed, and that the full force of the law is applied,” Mehaisen said.
Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said that the purge was only “phase one” and that detainees had been questioned.
“Yesterday [Saturday] does not represent the start, but the completion of Phase One of our anti-corruption push,” Mojeb said, adding that investigations were done discreetly “in order to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure there was no flight from justice”.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding was among those held, according to Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed senior official.
The list of detainees also included senior ministers who were recently sacked, such as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.
On Monday, stock in Al Tayyar Travel was down 10 percent in the opening minutes at Saudi Arabia’s stock index after media reported the detention of Tayyar.
Meanwhile, Saudi banks reportedly started freezing bank accounts of the suspects.
“The committee has the authority to reveal the bank details of the accused, freeze their assets and funds, and take other appropriate measures,” anti-corruption commission president, Mehaisen, said.
“However, it will ensure that no wrongdoer is able to escape punishment, regardless of their position and status, while at the same time doing everything to protect the innocent. As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stated clearly, no one is above the law, and no one who is proven to have indulged in corruption will escape, not even a prince or a minister.”
Pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a no-fly list has been issued and that security forces in several Saudi airports were ordered to bar private jets owners from taking off without a permit.
“Security members were seen in the lounges of private jets to monitor the situation and to make sure that no plane leaves the kingdom without a permit,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources, adding that security personnel were given a list of specific names of individuals who should be prevented from leaving.
The shake-up of the Saudi government comes just months after King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed as the kingdom’s crown prince.
Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for pushing through a number of changes both at home and abroad since he became first in line to the Saudi crown.