Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Saudi cash-for-freedom deals

More Saudis are cheering the corruption purge as the kingdom regains billions’ worth in financial settlements, reports Haitham Nouri

Saudi cash-for-freedom deals
Saudi cash-for-freedom deals

اقرأ باللغة العربية

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman is garnering much support in his anti-corruption campaign, unprecedented in the history of the kingdom. But it seems that the work of the committee headed by Bin Salman and investigating graft allegations against more than 300 princes, ministers, government officials and businessmen, is not an easy task.

“The purge campaign has changed the minds of many in the kingdom,” said Anwar Eshqi, a Saudi writer close to decision-making circles. “I will not mention their names, they voice their opinions on Twitter and Facebook… that is in addition to wide strata of the public.”

Eshqi’s words match with the UK’s Financial Times report which stated that Bin Salman’s campaign has won the appreciation of many Saudis who have for many years been enraged by the corruption of many Saudi princes and businessmen.

“Why would only the poor bear the brunt of austerity? The corrupt perpetrated what we have come to,” said Saudi writer Turki Al-Hamad.

The crackdown has, however, aroused the worries of foreign investors that it might have been a “selective campaign”.

Nonetheless, the campaign has garnered the support of the Saudi people and public figures alike. Writer Jamal Khashoggi wrote on Twitter: “Negotiating financial settlements with some of the detainees has led to the recovery of billions [of riyals]… But transparency is more important to our future, in order not to repeat the corruption of the past decades.”

The names of the detainees who scored the settlements were not announced, neither by an independent nor governmental body.

Khashoggi, self-exiled in the US “for fear of detention”, has advised the crown prince to collaborate with the Muslim Brotherhood and drop the “sensitivity” towards them because “they are natural allies against corruption”.

“Financial settlements worth billions are currently, and quietly, being negotiated with elite princes who were not detained. The settlements will lead to their handing of money and assets to the Ministry of Finance and the state,” Khashoggy added.

Reuters reported that Saudi authorities have frozen over 2,000 bank accounts belonging to Saudis charged with corruption and their families. Some tweets put the number of bank accounts at 9,000. No government figures have of yet been released.

One leading Saudi businessman waived 70 per cent of his assets in return for dropping the charges against him, according to the Financial Times, which named neither the businessman nor the source of information.

The Financial Times estimates put the figure of the settlements at $300 billion, which is far less than The Wall Street Journal sum of $800 billion — a figure close to that reported by many Twitter users, standing at between 2-3 trillion Saudi riyals.

A statement released by the bureau of the Saudi prosecutor-general said the investigations currently being conducted concern a sum amounting to $100 billion.

Detained Prince Walid Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company has approached three Saudi banks to get loans required for new investments, Reuters said. The banks suspended the processing of the loans for fear of the prince’s current unstable position, which led to his Kingdom Holding’s loss of 19 per cent of its shares in the Saudi market since his detention, reported the news agency. According to Forbes, Bin Talal is the wealthiest Arab businessman.

The Saudi government said investments, locally and overseas, will not be affected by the wave of arrests and that the detainees’ companies should proceed with their businesses as usual.

Whereas the Financial Times reported the worries of investors worldwide, Khashoggi said “now there may be fears, but this step [the purge] will create a large Saudi middle class base because the princes are the cause of corruption.”

Unconfirmed reports said since the crackdown funds were being transferred offshore to escape asset freeze, but the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (the kingdom’s central bank) denied the claims in a report issued at the end of last week.

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