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Saudi Arabia makes fresh arrests in anti-graft crackdown

Saudi Arabian authorities have made further arrests and frozen more bank accounts in anti-corruption crackdown on the kingdom’s political and business elite, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have already been held in the purge announced on Saturday.

They face allegations of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.

But the sources, on Wednesday, said a number of other individuals suspected of wrongdoing were detained in the crackdown, widely seen as initiative of the powerful heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Others under scrutiny were being phoned by investigators about their finances but appeared to remain at liberty, one of the sources said.

The sources added that the number of people targeted in the crackdown was expected eventually to rise into hundreds.

The number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge was over 1,700 and rising, up from 1,200 reported on Tuesday, banking sources said.

A number of those held most recently include individuals with links to the immediate family of late Prince Sultan Abdulaziz, the Crown Prince and Defence Minister who died in 2011, the sources said.

Others appeared to be lower-level managers and officials, one of the sources said.

Many Saudis cheered the purge as an attack on the theft of state funds by the rich, and U.S. President Donald Trump said those arrested had been “milking their country for years”.

But some Western officials expressed apprehension at the possible ramifications for the secretive tribal and royal politics of the world’s largest oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia’s stock market continued to fall in early trade on Wednesday because of concern about the economic impact of its anti-corruption purge.

The Saudi index .TASI was 1.0 per cent lower after half an hour of trade. Shares in companies linked to people detained in the investigation slid further.

Late on Tuesday, Crown Prince Mohammed Salman and the Saudi Central Bank sought to ease worries about the crackdown.

They said that while individuals were being targeted and having their bank accounts frozen, national and multinational companies – including those wholly or partly owned by individuals under investigation – would not be disrupted.

Anti-corruption authorities have also frozen the bank accounts of Prince Mohammed Nayef, one of the most senior members of the ruling Al Saud, and some of his immediate family members, the sources added.

Prince Mohammed, or MbN as he is known, was ousted as Crown Prince in June when King Salman replaced him with the then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Since Sunday, the Central Bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, one regional banker said, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Among business executives detained in the probe so far are billionaire Prince Alwaleed Talal, Chairman of Investment Firm Kingdom Holding 4280.SE; Nasser al-Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel 1810.SE; and Amr al-Dabbagh, Chairman of Builder Red Sea International 4230.SE.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had urged Saudi Arabia to carry out any prosecution of officials detained in a “fair and transparent” manner.

Human Rights Watch called on Saudi authorities to “immediately reveal the legal and evidentiary basis for each person’s detention and make certain that each person detained can exercise their due process rights”.

“It’s great that Saudi authorities are declaring that they want to take on the scourge of corruption, but the right way to do that is through diligent judicial investigations against actual wrongdoing, not sensationalistic mass arrests to a luxury hotel,” Right Watch official, Sarah Whitson, in a statement.



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