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Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, head of the Saudi Anti-Corruption Committee which ordered the arrests
A number of prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and business people were arrested in Saudi Arabia on 4 November 2017 and the following few weeks after the creation of an anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MbS).
There are three alternate hypotheses regarding the motives behind the purge: a genuine corruption crackdown, a project to gain money, or preparing to take over the crown.
The detainees were confined at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh (which hosted the announcement for the planned city of Neom on 24 October 2017), which subsequently stopped accepting new bookings and told guests to leave. Private jets were also grounded to prevent suspects from fleeing the country.
The arrests resulted in the final sidelining of the faction of the late King Abdullah and MbS's complete consolidation of control of all three branches of the security forces, making him the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia since his grandfather, the first King, Ibn Saud.
As many as 500 people were rounded up in the sweep. Saudi Arabian banks froze more than 2,000 domestic accounts as part of the crackdown. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Saudi government targeted cash and assets worth up to $800 billion. The Saudi authorities claimed that amount was composed of assets worth around $300 billion to $400 billion that they can prove was linked to corruption.
Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Motjeb said in a statement that the arrests were "merely the start of a vital process to root out corruption wherever it exists." He added that those detained would have access to legal counsel and pledges to hold trials "in a timely and open manner." Meanwhile, King Salman appointed 26 new judges.
MbS stated that "We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement...About 1 percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court." When asked about reports of cash and assets totaling $800 billion that belong to the people accused of corruption, the official said, "Even if we get 100 billion back, that would be good."
The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials, and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.
Many analysts believe that the campaign is aimed at repressing the critiques of Bin Salman. After the Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, Middle East Eye revealed by citing unnamed Saudi sources that the murder is part of a larger operation of silently murdering critics of Saudi government by a death squad named "tiger squad", composed of the most trusted and skilled intelligence officials of the Crown Prince, bin Salman. The tiger squad assassinates dissidents using varying methods such as planned car accidents, house fires, or poisoning in a clinic by injecting poisonous substances to a member of opposition referred to a Saudi hospital for a regular health checkup. The five-member squad were also the part of the 15-member death squad who were sent to murder Khashoggi. According to the sources, Bin Salman has chosen silent murder instead of arrest as the method of repression due to the fact only arresting the dissents spark international pressures for releasing them, whereas silent murder covers it up as a natural incident. Prince Mansour bin Muqrin has already been assassinated by shooting down his personal aircraft as he was fleeing the country but it was made to appear as a natural accident. Meshal Saad al-Bostani a member of the tiger squad and a lieutenant in Saudi airforce was behind the murder but he himself was also later murdered by a food poison but reported to have died as a result of car accident. Another victim has been Suliman Abdul Rahman al Thuniyan, a Saudi court judge who was murdered by injection of deadly virus to his body when he had visited a hospital for a regular health checkup. This took place after he had opposed Bin Salman's 2030 Economic Vision.
King Salman stated that the anti-corruption committee need to "identify offences, crimes and persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption". He also referred to the "exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to illicitly accrue money".
On 24 October 2017 Crown Prince Mohammed who ordered the arrests, told investors in Riyadh that "We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world". He also pledged to counter "extremism very soon".
Those arrested, detained, or removed from their posts include, but are not limited to:
According to Sam Blatteis, Middle East Public Policy Manager for Deloitte and a former Google head of public policy in the Persian Gulf, "This is the closest thing in the Middle East to glasnost"; other businessmen have compared the purge to Russian president Vladimir Putin's politically-motivated attacks on Russian oligarchs. The Economist has likened the purge to the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. Thomas Friedman at The New York Times called it Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring.
The 2017 purge of the Saudi political and business elite was followed in 2018 by arrests of 17 women's rights activists, including Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Mana and Madeha al-Ajroush as well as Hatoon al-Fassi, a women's rights activist and associate professor of women's history. Eastern Province human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham and her husband, already in prison since December 2015, were under legal threat of beheading along with four colleagues, with a final hearing to take place on 28 October 2018 in the Specialized Criminal Court.
Eleven princes and dozens of former ministers were detained ... The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts.
The prince was released following an undisclosed financial agreement with the government, similar to deals that authorities struck with most other detainees in exchange for their freedom.