Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Picture: REUTERS
Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Picture: REUTERS

Dubai/Riyadh — Saudi Arabia’s crackdown, which led to the arrests of princes, billionaires and officials at the weekend, is expanding beyond those detained in what authorities described as an anti-corruption drive.

The central bank ordered banks to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals who are not under arrest, according to three sources. Already, as much as $33bn in personal wealth belonging to the richest detainees has been put at risk.

More may be on the way: the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority sent a list of hundreds of names to lenders, telling them to freeze any accounts linked to them, two sources said. No reason has been given for the actions and central bank officials did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The weekend arrest of princes, officials and billionaires included Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a shareholder in such global companies as Citigroup and Apple, has reverberated across boardrooms and financial institutions in the biggest Arab economy and globally.

The move also drew support from US President Donald Trump but raised concern among analysts that a power grab was under way. In all, 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers and well-known businessmen were taken into custody.

The arrests were under the auspices of an anticorruption commission that King Salman set up on Saturday, headed by his son and heir, Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The king also dismissed Prince Miteb bin Abdullah from his post as head of the powerful National Guard, taking out one of the last princes to have survived a series of cabinet reshuffles promoting allies of the crown prince.

The Saudi attorney-general said in a statement released on Monday that weekend arrests of princes, businessmen and officials were only "phase one" of the anticorruption drive.

Saudi stocks fell. The benchmark Tadawul all share index dropped 1.9%, with Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding plummeting 10% on Tuesday.

Trump gave his backing to the royal round-up in a tweet on Tuesday morning from Japan.

"I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing," the president said.

A senior Saudi official denied the crackdown had any other purpose than to fight corruption. The accused "will be subject to investigation according to the regular procedures adopted in the Kingdom", the official said.


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