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Billionaire Saudi prince arrested in anti-graft war

  Riyadh, Sunday

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of senior figures including princes, ministers and a top business tycoon, in what authorities hailed today as a “decisive” anti-corruption sweep as the kingdom’s crown prince consolidates power.

Prominent billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal was among the 11 princes arrested late Saturday, reports said, immediately after a new anti-corruption commission headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was established by royal decree.

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 through the kingdom.

Major changes

The dramatic purge comes at a time of unprecedented social and economic transformation in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, as Prince Mohammed steps up his reform drive for a post-oil era.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported that the princes, four current ministers and dozens of ex-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. Shares in Kingdom Holding, 95 per cent of which is owned by Prince Al-Waleed, dived 9.9 per cent as the Saudi stock exchange opened Sunday after reports of his arrest.

An aviation source told AFP that security forces had grounded private jets at airports, possibly to prevent high-profile figures from leaving the country.

“The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

The purge comes less than two weeks after Prince Mohammed welcomed thousands of global business leaders to Riyadh for an investment summit, showcasing his reform drive that has shaken up the kingdom.

It follows a wave of arrests of influential clerics and activists in September as the 32-year-old prince, often known as MBS, cements his grip on power.              – AFP

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