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Saudi Arabia blocks over 1,200 bank accounts amid crackdown

Saudi Arabia has blocked the bank accounts of over 1,200 individuals and companies as part of the kingdom’s purported anti-graft campaign which is considered the biggest purge of the country’s elite in the kingdom’s modern history.

The Saudi central bank has been expanding the blacklisted accounts on an almost hourly basis since Sunday, Reuters cited Saudi bankers and lawyers as saying on Tuesday.

Dozens of princes, ministers and former ministers were detained on the order of Saudi Arabia’s so-called Anti-Corruption Committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday in a crackdown which is widely believed ro be aimed at consolidating his power.

The detained individuals are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and misappropriation of public office for personal benefits.

A royal decree on Saturday said the crackdown was in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money.”

Saudi authorities have warned that any assets related to the corruption cases would be seized as state property.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding, Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, the founder of Al Tayyar Travel and Amr al-Dabbagh, the chairman of builder Red Sea International are among the top business executives detained during the purge.

The file photo shows Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal attending a festival in Riyadh on February 18, 2014. (By AFP)

The stocks of all three companies, which have issued statements saying they continue to operate as normal, plunged between 9 and 10 percent on Tuesday.

A no-fly list had reportedly been drawn up and the security forces in some Saudi airports are preventing owners of private jets from departing the country without a permit.

Economic reform or political instability

While the crackdown has triggered uncertainty among businesses over the prospect of political instability and capital flight, the Saudi authorities are trying to reassure investors that the purge is part of the country’s economic reform plan.

The central bank reportedly held a meeting with some foreign banks this week, assuring them that the freezing of accounts targeted individuals and that the purge would not harm businesses, including those with ties to the arrested suspects.

On Tuesday, Saudi central bank chief Ahmed Abdulkarim AlKholifey issued a statement, saying, “It is worth clarifying that concerned individual accounts rather than their corporate businesses have been put in suspension until final court rulings.”

“In other words, corporate businesses remain unaffected. It is business as usual for both banks and corporates,” he said, noting that there are no restrictions on money transfers through legal banking channels.

Moreover, Saudi Commerce Minister Majid al-Qasabi stressed that companies, including those owned by the arrested elites, will be accorded “full protection” under the law.

The photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending a military parade in Mecca on August 23, 2017.

Over the past year, the crown prince has become the ultimate decision-maker for the Persian Gulf kingdom’s military, foreign, economic and social policies, angering some royals frustrated by his unorthodox and swift rise.

Political analysts say the purge by the young 32-year-old crown prince has centralized power to a degree that is unprecedented in recent Saudi history.

US President Donald Trump has expressed support for the crackdown, saying some of those arrested had been “milking their country for years.”

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