Saudi government to seize over $100B in 'corruption crackdown'
Critics say crown prince has used purge to sideline rivals and consolidate power
Saudi Arabia's government has arranged to seize over $100 billion US in financial settlements with businessmen and officials detained in its crackdown on corruption, the attorney general said Tuesday.
"The estimated value of settlements currently stands at more than 400 billion riyals [$106 billion US] represented in various types of assets, including real estate, commercial entities, securities, cash and other assets," Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a statement.
The huge sum, if it is successfully recovered, would be a major financial boost for the government, which has seen its finances strained by low oil prices. The state budget deficit this year is projected at the equivalent of $52 billion US.
The announcement also appeared to represent a political victory for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who launched the purge last November and predicted at the time that it would net about $100 billion in settlements.
Dozens of top officials and businessmen were detained in the purge, many of them confined and interrogated at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
56 people still in custody
Critics say the crown prince has used the purge against high-level individuals to wrangle control of key Saudi companies, sideline potential rivals and silence critics alarmed by his rapid rise to power as he prepares to inherit the throne from his father, King Salman.
In total, the investigation subpoenaed 381 people, some of whom testified or provided evidence, Mojeb said, adding that 56 people had not reached settlements and were still in custody, down from 95 early last week. Some cases are expected to go for trial, authorities have said previously.
Over 100 detainees are believed to have been released. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of global investor Kingdom Holding, and Waleed al-Ibrahim, who controls influential regional broadcaster MBC, were freed last weekend.
Despite repeated statements that the purge is nearly over, investors remain concerned about doing business in Saudi Arabia, where key business partners and firms could still be targeted. The government has also not officially released the names of individuals detained nor disclosed the specific allegations against them, leading to concerns of transparency and accountability.
There is also concern that royal family members stung by the sweep and businessmen forced to handover significant financial assets or control of their companies could try and seek some form of retaliation.
With files from The Associated Press