Saudi Arabia arrested 11 princes, including a prominent billionaire, and dozens of current and former ministers, reports said, in a sweeping crackdown as the kingdom’s young crown prince consolidates power.
Separately, the head of the Saudi National Guard, once a leading contender to the throne, as well as the navy chief and the economy minister were replaced in a series of high-profile sackings that sent shock waves in the kingdom.
The crackdown was reported immediately after a new anti-corruption commission, headed by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was established by royal decree late Saturday.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported that the princes, four current and dozens of former ministers were arrested as the commission launched a probe into old cases such as floods that devastated the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2009.
State-run Saudi Press Agency said the commission’s goal was to “preserve public money, punish corrupt people and those who exploit their positions”.
Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was among those arrested, Saudi news websites said though there was no official confirmation. The prince was not reachable for comment.
An aviation source told AFP that security forces had grounded private jets in Jeddah, possibly to prevent any high-profile figures from leaving.
Meanwhile, the kingdom’s top council of clerics tweeted that anti-corruption efforts were “as important as the fight against terrorism”, essentially giving religious backing to the crackdown.
“The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community,” Ulrichsen told AFP.