Saudi Arabia has arrested 11 princes, four officials and tens of former officials as part of a sweeping anti-corruption probe which further cements control in the hands of its young Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman.
Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has extensive holdings in Western companies, was among those arrested, state news agencies reported.
A top security official, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, was detained and replaced as minister of the powerful National Guard by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf, consolidating Prince Mohammed’s control of security institutions which had previously been headed by separate branches of the ruling family.
News of the purge came after King Salman decreed the creation of a new anti-corruption committee chaired by Prince Mohammed, his 32-year-old son, who has swiftly amassed power since rising from obscurity less than three years ago.
Analysts suggested the corruption probe, which targeted key members of the royal family, was a show of force by the crown prince, aimed at removing any potential opposition as he pushes an ambitious and controversial reform agenda.
“The most recent crackdown breaks with the tradition of consensus within the ruling family whose secretive inner workings are equivalent to those of the Kremlin at the time of the Soviet Union,” wrote James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“Nonetheless, the dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed rather than forging alliances is extending his iron grip to the ruling family, the military, and the National Guard to counter what appears to be more widespread opposition within the family as well as the military to his reforms and the Yemen war.”
An economist at a big Gulf bank, who declined to be named because of political sensitivities, told Reuters nobody in Saudi Arabia believed corruption was at the root of the purge.
“It’s about consolidating power and frustration that reforms haven’t been happening fast enough,” the economist said.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, told the Associated Press the arrests were designed to further smooth the crown prince’s eventual succession to the throne.
“As a leader who is set to remain in power for decades, Mohammed bin Salman is remaking the kingdom in his own image and signalling a potentially significant move away from the consensual balancing of competing interests that characterised Saudi rule in the past,” Mr Ulrichsen said.
Other people detained in the probe include former finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, a board member of national oil giant Saudi Aramco; economy minister Adel Fakieh, who once played a major role in drafting reforms; former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah; and Khalid al-Tuwaijiri, who headed the Royal Court under the late King Abdullah.
In addition to Prince Alwaleed, who is one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known international businessmen as an investor in firms such as Citigroup and Twitter, those detained included Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the big Saudi Binladin construction group, and Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the MBC television network.
Reporters suggested some detainees were being held at the opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh.
The detentions followed an earlier crackdown in September on political opponents of Saudi Arabia’s rulers that saw some 30 clerics, intellectuals and activists detained.
Additional reporting by agencies