Saudi anti-graft campaign nabs hundreds of civil servants

Saudi anti-graft campaign nabs hundreds of civil servants
Saudi anti-graft campaign nabs hundreds of civil servants

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The sweeping arrests were announced on the evening of March 15 and involved some 298 detained at the request of Saudi Arabia’s Control and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha).

Unrelenting. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud attends a meeting of the Saudi cabinet. (DPA/SPA)

LONDON--As part of efforts to crack down on corruption, Saudi authorities announced the detention of close to 300 individuals, the majority of whom worked as civil servants in a variety of sectors throughout the kingdom.

The sweeping arrests were announced on the evening of March 15 and involved some 298 detained at the request of Saudi Arabia’s Control and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha), the government agency set up for the sole purpose of tackling administrative and financial corruption.

674 state employees were criminally investigated, while 298 were detained for “financial and administrative corruption, consisting of bribery crimes, embezzlement and waste of public money, misuse of employment powers and administrative misuse,” an official statement by the Saudi state corruption watchdog said.

Saudi officials have revealed that defendants have so far confessed to misappropriating the equivalent of $100 million.

The arrested include 16 people involved in bribery and money laundering over Defence Ministry contracts, including a general and seven officers, during the years 2005-2015, which coincides with the reign of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

A group of 21 individuals, including three foreign nationals, stand accused of “exploiting contracts” with the health authorities.

A group of 14 individuals were detained. Its members included three high-ranking police officers and four interior ministry staff, accused of abusing their power and receiving bribes, while two judges were arrested for allegedly receiving bribes.

The announcement of the latest sweep follows the high-profile arrests of senior members of the royal family a week earlier. Amongst those arrested were the king’s brother, 78-year-old Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz and 60-year-old former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, for allegedly attempting a coup through the kingdom’s Allegiance Council, the body set up in 2007 by the late King Abdallah bin Abdulaziz to address the issue of succession within the-then royal family.

However despite rampant speculation by Saudi watchers tying the royal arrests to the latest detentions,  it appears that the two matters are unrelated, particularly as the Nazaha crackdown is part of Riyadh’s anti-corruption drive designed to make the investment climate in the kingdom more attractive for international investors, in line with its Vision 2030 reform programme.

Although Nazaha was formed in 2011, the anti-corruption body accelerated its activities after King Salman bin Abdulaziz  Al Saud came to power in January 2015.

In a 2017 interview, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the king was concerned about efforts to fight corruption and made a goal of tackling it on the first day he assumed power.

 “He was also not satisfied with the role this (corruption) committee has played. If fighting corruption is not on the top of the agenda, it means the fight is not succeeding,” the crown prince told Al Arabiya TV.

“No person involved in corruption will survive, whether it is a prince or a minister or whoever,” he added..

Nazaha came to the world’s attention in November of 2017, when authorities in Riyadh launched a kingdom-wide anti-corruption campaign, with the aim of holding both average citizens and royalty accountable.

King Salman issued a royal decree forming an anti-corruption task force to be overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed, with the jurisdiction to “investigate, issue arrest warrants, travel bans and freeze accounts and portfolios,” an official statement said.

This resulted in more than 200 individuals, including members of the royal family, former ministers and high-profile businessmen, being arrested in the culmination of a 3-year investigation and held in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Saudi authorities leading the investigation negotiated settlements with some detainees and said that those held on corruption charges would be required to return misappropriated funds. Some suspects would have to turn over as much as 70% of their wealth, the Financial Times reported during the two-month investigation.

Most of those arrested agreed to settle to avoid further prosecution, which resulted in the kingdom recovering $107 billion to be channelled into economic development projects, according to Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al=Jadaan.

The anti-corruption probe was both lauded and criticised by pundits. Praised for its scope, it brought those once viewed as untouchable in Saudi Arabia into account, a move that was widely supported by the Saudi populace. However, that fact that both the allegations and settlements were kept secret resulted in accusations of a lack of transparency in the proceedings.

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