A top entrepreneur was reportedly held today in the biggest anti-corruption purge of the Kingdom’s affluent elite in its modern history.
Nasser Bin Aqeel Al-Tayyar, a board member at one of the country’s largest travel agencies, was detained as part of a campaign of mass arrests of Saudi Arabian royals, ministers and businessmen.
The arrests are the latest in a series of dramatic steps by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to assert Saudi influence internationally and centralise his own power within a hereditary ruling system at home.
The campaign also lengthens an already daunting list of challenges undertaken by the 32-year-old since his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015, including going to war in Yemen, cranking up Riyadh’s confrontation with arch-foe Iran and reforming the economy to lessen its reliance on oil.
Critics perceive the purge as a further sign of intolerance from a power-hungry leader keen to stop influential opponents blocking his economic reforms or reversing the expansion of his own political clout.
In an article in the Washington Post newspaper, prominent Saudi columnist Jamal Kashoggi applauded the anti-graft campaign but added: “He is imposing very selective justice.”
“The crackdown on even the most constructive criticism – the demand for complete loyalty with a significant ‘or else’ – remains a serious challenge to the crown prince’s desire to be seen as a modern, enlightened leader,” Kashoggi wrote.
“The buck stops at the leader’s door. He is not above the standard he is now setting for the rest of his family, and for the country.”
Dozens of people have been detained in the crackdown, which has consolidated Prince Mohammed’s power while alarming much of the traditional business establishment. Billionaire Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s best-known international investor, is also being detained, officials said at the weekend.
A no-fly list has been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit, pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat said. Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials.
The allegations against the men include money laundering, bribery, extortion and taking advantage of public office for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters.
A royal decree on Saturday said the crackdown was launched in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly accrue money”.
The new anti-corruption committee has the power to seize assets at home and abroad before the results of its investigations are known.