RIYADH – The more than 200 people being held as part of a crackdown on corruption may have squandered as much as $100 billion in public funds, Saudi Arabia’s attorney general said on Thursday.
“The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large. Based on our investigations over the past three years, we estimate that at least $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said.
Seven of the 208 people detained in last weekend’s unprecedented round-up of princes, senior officials and prominent businessmen were later released due to lack of evidence, the attorney general said.
In order to minimize the disruption to normal business activity, authorities will freeze only the personal accounts of the suspects, not those of companies, according to Al-Mojeb, a member of the anti-corruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“There has been a great deal of speculation around the world regarding the identities of the individuals concerned and the details of the charges against them,” he said. “In order to ensure that the individuals continue to enjoy the full legal rights afforded to them under Saudi law, we will not be revealing any more personal details at this time.”
Despite the official secrecy, media accounts say the detainees include billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and two sons of the late King Abdullah.
Some observers have decried the mass arrests as a move by the crown prince to quash opposition to his authority.
Human Rights Watch has also questioned the motivation for the anti-corruption crusade.
“The middle-of-the-night simultaneous establishment of a new corruption body and mass arrests over corruption raise concerns that Saudi authorities detained people en masse and without outlining the basis of the detentions,” HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement.
“While Saudi media are framing these measures as Mohammad bin Salman’s move against corruption, the mass arrests suggest this may be more about internal power politics,” Whitson said.