Saudi Arabia has dismissed a number of senior ministers and detained nearly a dozen princes in an investigation by a new anti-corruption committee, state media reported on Saturday.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns the investment firm, Kingdom Holding, was among those held, according to Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed senior official.
The senior ministers who were sacked include Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.
Abdullah al-Sultan, commander of the Saudi navy, was replaced by Fahad al-Ghafli.
In a statement on the official Saudi news agency, SPA, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud alluded 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” for the creation of the anti-graft committee.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel reported that at least 11 princes, four current ministers and several former ministers had been detained in the anti-corruption probe.
Saudi authorities have not confirmed the names of those detained. However, 14 former and current ministers, officials and businessmen were mentioned on social media as being among those held.
One of those mentioned is Waleed al-Ibrahim, chairman of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), under which Al Arabiya operates.
According to Al Arabiya, the new committee, which is headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is looking into the 2009 floods that devastated parts of Jeddah, as well as the government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus outbreak.
King Salman issued a statement saying that the committee shall “identify offences, crimes and persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption”.
The committee has the power to issue arrest warrants, travel bans, disclose and freeze accounts and portfolios, track funds and assets, and “prevent their remittance or transfer by persons and entities, whatever they might be”, according to the statement.
Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for pushing through a number of changes both at home and abroad since he became first in line to the Saudi crown.
Ian Black of the London School of Economics said the move fit a “pattern of accelerated change” since Mohammed bin Salman became heir to the throne.
“We’ve seen since June this year, very far-reaching changes,” he said, adding: “That was when Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman, was appointed crown prince.
“Since Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince in June, we’ve seen a lot of upheaval. We’ve seen the announcement of this very ambitious Saudi plan to transform the country, the Saudi economy, Vision 2030.”
The dismissal of Miteb bin Abdullah as National Guard minister came shortly after a missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport.
However, Black said the two were probably not related as the sacking came bundled with changes to other ministerial portfolios.
In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia announced an end to its long-standing ban on allowing women to drive, and Mohammed bin Salman has also promised to return the country to a “moderate” form of Islam.
What does this mean? Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara explains:
“There have been signs over the last two and a half years that more of this is coming. [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] is raising the leverage of power in Saudi Arabia. He certainly has the blessings of his father, King Salman, and he’s determined to make all kinds of changes in Saudi Arabia itself and in Saudi foreign policy, which led to the war in Yemen and the Gulf crisis.
But internally this is new. Not only do we have a new chapter opening up in Saudi Arabia, we have a whole new book, a whole new political alphabet with one exception: It’s still all done in secrecy. Why those 11 princes, why those four standing ministers? Is it really just to consolidate power or is there more to it?
Why isn’t there more transparency and sharing of evidence about the setting up of the committee? We really are on the brink of dramatic changes.
In 2015, Mohammed bin Salman became minister of defence. Just a few months ago, he became the head of all the internal security forces because they got rid of Mohammed bin Nayef, then crown prince. Now he’s taken control of the third most important security apparatus within the country, so he has defence, he is in control of interior, and now he is in control of the guards.
Clearly, he has the stage set. Clearly all the heads of all the major media networks, newspapers, and commentators were all already groomed, set in motion in order to defend the crown prince and his policies. There are already new songs for the crown prince and his glory, so internally they are definitely setting the stage in terms of the three security apparatuses, the media and so on.
President Trump has given his blessings and support to the crown prince with the hundreds of billions of dollars of promised contracts, so he’s certainly supporting his various ambitions in the region, most importantly that of the confrontation with Iran in the region. This is something that Trump really wants as well as apparently a promised rapprochement with Israel.
In the tradition of Saudi Arabia, revolting against the royals is not a good idea. It’s never been recommended. But does it all end with this or will it lead to more? I think it will lead to more, but will it then lead to discontent among Saudis? It just might.”