Sat, Feb 10, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Saudi Arabian corruption purge slows, but questions emerge

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has created a culture of fear to keep the royal family under check, but, as tensions still simmer, has failed to make himself accountable

By Aya Batrawy  /  AP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

“The entire process was shrouded in secrecy from the onset,” said Marwa Fatafta, a Middle East adviser to Transparency International. “Asking detainees for assets in exchange for their release sounds like extortion, which is corruption.”

On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Saudi Arabia scored a 46 last year, or what is considered a “failing grade.”

Critics and observers have said that underlying Prince Mohammed’s purge was a political effort to pressure leading businessmen and princes who did not actively support his so-called Vision 2030 plan, a blueprint for how to restructure the country and wean it from its dependence on oil revenue.

Supporters of the crown prince argue that the anti-corruption campaign succeeded because it kept intact the privacy of people’s settlements and the allegations they faced.

Many detainees remain very wealthy and have expressed their loyalty to the king and crown prince “because they understand the power dynamics of the country,” said Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank that has links with the Saudi Arabian government.

The government sent a clear message to anyone indulging in high-level corruption that the old ways of doing business would no longer be tolerated, he said.

“It was clearly a success. The objective was behavioral change,” he said. “Now, will some people be bitter? You never know... That’s always a risk.”

Just hours before his release, Prince Alwaleed voiced his support for the crown prince in an interview with reporters from the hotel suite where he was being held.

“My allegiance is not on the table ... for the king, crown prince, Saudi Arabia, it’s non-negotiable,” he said, before later adding: “I can only say I’m supporting the king and crown prince in all the efforts they’re doing to really have a new Saudi Arabia.”

Because the Saudi Arabian public appears to be supportive of efforts to weed out corruption, it is difficult for elites who may be looking to organize against the crown prince to find many supporters, said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst for US private intelligence firm Stratfor.

“Young people are with the crown prince. Not only is he young himself, but he’s making decisions that so far have been very popular, or seen as long overdue,” Bohl said.

Last month, 11 princes were detained for allegedly trying to storm one of the royal palaces to complain about the removal of some royal perks as the crown prince works to overhaul the economy in the face of lower oil prices.

They were immediately sent to a high-security prison on the outskirts of Riyadh, pending trial, reports by state-linked media said.

Another prince, who released an audio recording calling the government’s reasons for their arrest “false” and “illogical,” was promptly sacked from his position as head of one of the kingdom’s sports federations.

The incident revealed some of the simmering tensions within the royal family, less than a year after the crown prince sidelined an older, more experienced cousin from becoming the heir.

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