Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned television network, announced on Saturday night the arrest of eleven princes, including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Four ministers and many former ministers were also arrested.
The arrests were allegedly conducted and closely followed by the formation of Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption commission. The commission’s leader is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely believed to be combating dissent preemptively. Though he is already the de facto ruler and official minister of defense, the timing of his official ascension is still uncertain.
The royal order has announced that the commission was created “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest and stealing public funds.” Its rights are reportedly to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts.
According to Al Arabiya, the current arrests have to do with the floods that ravaged the city of Jiddah in 2009 and the government response to the viral Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that has proven fatal to hundreds.
The attacks against corruption could also be an effort to attract international investment in the Kingdom. Prince Mohammed has long been attempting to improve the country’s reputation and diversify its economy. Dozens of people were also arrested in September. Many saw it as a “coordinated crackdown” targeting outspoken opposers of some of Prince Mohammed’s political decisions.
The nation’s top council of clerics have stated that it is an “Islamic duty” to fight corruption, giving religious support to the campaign.
There is, as of yet, no official confirmation of the arrests.
The arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who is one of the world’s richest men and has large stakes in major corporations such as News Corp, Twitter, Citigroup and satellite networks that dominate the Arab world, is particularly concerning to the financial centers of both the Kingdom and the world.
In 2015, he announced that his entire fortune of $32 billion would be donated to charity at the time of his death. It is unclear if these assets were seized at the time of his arrest.