There has never been a house cleaning like this. Dozens of the richest and most influential people of Saudi Arabia including princes and government ministers, were swept by the authorities and have been detained for more than a month in the palace Ritz Carlton in the capital, Riyadh. There, they have been presented with evidence of their corruption, officials say, and may choose to face a trial or renounce the illicitly acquired wealth and be released. That process and the identity of some of the detainees have raised questions: Is repression really a shock? Are you destined to set aside potential rivals for the favorite son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and designated heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? Some debates are inevitable in a country where the definition of corruption is muddied by a long-tolerated patronage system that allowed royals and Saudi businessmen to enrich themselves with government contracts and lucrative deals with multinational corporations.
1 . What are the complaints?
Saudi authorities say that at least $ 100 billion have been diverted from public accounts for decades through corruption and embezzlement. Officials could recover as much as in the settlements, according to Prince Mohammed, 32, who heads the new anti-corruption commission that heads the crackdown and which essentially runs the country for his 81-year-old father. The prince, who is known as MBS by analysts, has said that most of the detainees have agreed to return some of the money they obtained illegally in exchange for their freedom.
2. Saudi Arabia is known for corruption?
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Indexwhich is based on a global survey that asks citizens about their direct graft experience, rates Saudi Arabia similarly to China and India, with a score of 46 of a possible 100 points. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States, defended corruption as "human nature" in a 1945 interview on the battle front in 2001 and said that $ 50 billion of the $ 400 billion spent to build the country they went to the pockets of the line, it was an acceptable amount. In a secret 1996 cable published by WikiLeaks, a US diplomat in Riyadh reported that a handful of the older princes were enriched with "extrabudgetary" programs that received 12.5 percent of the country's oil revenues. The diplomat said that some royals used their power to confiscate lands from commoners in order to resell them for the benefit of the government.
3. Those arrested had a reputation for being corrupt?
Some had been previously linked to questionable transactions. Prince Turki bin Nasser, for example, is famous for his participation in the so-called Al Yamamah arms deal with the United Kingdom, which led to corruption investigations in the United Kingdom and the US. Adel Fakeih, an economic politician until his arrest, The mayor of Jeddah when a flood in 2009 killed dozens of people due to infrastructure failures. Dozens of others, but not Fakeih, were convicted on charges including bribes.
4. Is it an accepted practice for the accused to buy his freedom?
Agreements in cases of corruption are not uncommon in other countries. However, Saudi Arabia lacks the transparent legal mechanisms used elsewhere to determine financial sanctions. The attorney general, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, said the suspects have had access to lawyers, but prosecutors have not disclosed any details of the charges.
5. Is this a shakedown?
That possibility has been raised by contacts in the United States and Europe of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the investor valued at $ 17.2 billion which is the most famous of the detainees. His Kingdom Holding Co. holds stakes in companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Twitter Inc. The Saudi coffers could certainly use a boost: reduced oil revenues have pushed both the budget and foreign currency reserves. On the other hand, the central bank still has more than $ 480 billion in net external assets, not exactly a pocket change.
6. Are arrests a game of power?
Speculation about that scenario was fueled especially by the inclusion among the detainees of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, 65, the favored son of the late King Abdullah. Until his arrest, Prince Miteb headed the powerful National Guard, which had been the last military branch that was not under the control of MBS. Prince Miteb was the first detainee to be released on November 29. One official said the prince reached a settlement agreement "that was believed to" exceed the equivalent of $ 1 billion. However, many Saudis argue that Prince Mohammed had already finished consolidating power in June when he marked his elder cousin, the former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
7. What does Prince Mohammed say?
The crown prince described the idea that the repression was a "ridiculous" takeover in an interview with the New York Times. He told the newspaper that when his father became king in 2015, he concluded that corruption was impeding economic growth. Then, he said, King Salman ordered his subordinates to thoroughly investigate corruption at the top of Saudi society, and when they were finished, the attorney general changed the information.
8. What are the risks of scanning for MBS?
It represents a great break with the status quo. For decades, the expanding royal family has shared power by distributing key responsibilities among princes of different branches. With government portfolios concentrated in his hands, Prince Mohammed has already deprived other royalty members of political power. Now, he is threatening the clientelism system that has spread the riches. That runs the risk of provoking opposition to its agenda, of moderating religious restrictions and by disconnecting the economy from dependence on oil, and its succession to the throne. In addition, economists expect that the interruption caused by research will temporarily slow down private investment in the kingdom, which is critical to Prince Mohammed's (1945-9015) vision of a diversified Saudi economy.
9. What are the possible benefits?
Deconstructing this system of patronage would save the government a large amount of money today, and even more in the future. It is estimated that there are 15,000 members of Saudi royalty, and the number continues to grow. In addition, in the long term, Saudi Arabia would be more attractive to foreign investors if there was less corruption.
10. Will Saudi royalty live more modestly?
Do not expect an integral change. When King Salman visited Moscow in October, he brought 1,500 retainers, his own carpets and a gold escalator for his Boeing 747. MBS spent around $ 550 million for a 19459014 yacht of 440 feet in southern France , according to The New York Times.
11. How can you allow those things?
Members of Saudi royalty have never been transparent about their profits or wealth. In the same cable published by Wikileaks, the US diplomat describes the visit to the office of the Ministry of Finance responsible for distributing the monthly stipends to each member of the royal family. The diplomat reported that, since his birth, the sons and daughters of Ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom, received up to $ 270,000, grandchildren received about $ 27,000, and so on through generations, with more distant members receiving a minimum $ 800. The marriage could generate an extra payment of up to $ 3 million to build a palace.
The Reference Shelf
- A report from the Congressional Research Service that includes what the offensive for Saudi-U.S might mean. relations.
- Erik Schatzker of Bloomberg dined with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal a few days before his arrest: "If Alwaleed had any idea of what was to come, he did not show it."
- Bloomberg Gadfly columnist Liam Denning says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on corruption appears to have been directed at the large young adult population of Saudi Arabia.
- Bloomberg QuickTakes on Prince Mohammed and how Saudi society is changing, and a QuickTake Q & A on why the Saudites are getting tough on their neighbors.