According to the attorney general of Saudi Arabia, Saudi al-Mojeb, the country has detained 201 people since November 5 as part of an anti-corruption probe spearheaded by the recently-appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reported the Guardian. Of those arrested, 11 are royal princes, including the prominent billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and dozens are military officials, businessmen, and high level government officials, reported Time. Although bin Salman presents the arrests as fulfilling his promise to reform Saudi Arabia, which has long been plagued by corruption, analysts at the Washington Post describe it as another step in bin Salman’s consolidation of power.
The Saudi King Salman appointed Mohammed bin Salman, his son, as crown prince on June 21, replacing his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, who was removed from his position as head of domestic security, according to BBC. Mohammed bin Salman continues in his post as defense minister, where he oversees the Saudi war in Yemen and pursues aggressive relations with Iran. The crown prince is popular domestically; he oversees Vision 2030, a plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy. Furthermore, Reuters reports that he has played a significant role in the country’s diplomatic isolation of Qatar, claiming that it is too close to Iran. The decision has divided the Gulf Cooperation Council and worried the United States, which works closely with Qatar on counterterrorism efforts, reported Al Jazeera.
King Salman ordered the creation of the anti-corruption committee in order to address “a persistent problem that has hindered development efforts,” according to CNN. Mohammed bin Salman heads the committee, which is authorized to arrest, investigate, and freeze the assets of subjects. According to al-Mojeb, the investigation has found that $100 billion has been misused for corrupt practices. As a result, the government has frozen 1,700 personal bank accounts, suspended some personal bank accounts, and detained dozens of suspects. The Guardian reports that a Saudi official in the aviation industry also stated that jets have been grounded to prevent suspects from fleeing the country.
The New York Times writes that this crackdown is a strategically selective enforcement of the anti-corruption campaign. Mohammed bin Salman and other members of the royal family directly benefit from conflicts of interest between the state and business. Saudi princes are intimately involved in investment firms, and other laws passed in the Saudi kingdom have rarely regulated the royal family’s behavior. Furthermore, without an independent court system that can investigate claims of corruption, analysts conclude that any arrests made at the request of the crown prince are likely to be part of a move to consolidate power and undermine bin Salman’s critics.
The arrest of Prince Miteb may confirmthese speculations. According to the Guardian, Prince Miteb was, before his detainment, the head of the National Guard, an elite internal security force, and had been considered for the crown prince appointment in the past. His arrest allows bin Salman to consolidate his control of the security establishment and removes the last relative of the late King Abdullah from high-level positions.