As nearly 300 government officials were arrested in Saudi Arabia on corruption charges ranging from bribery and embezzlement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is voicing their concern that there might possibly be “unfair legal proceedings” in the Saudi judicial system.
Say it isn’t so! After all, they do follow the founder of Islam, and impose the Sharia in their land. What would one expect?
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The Financial Times reports:
Saudi Arabia has detained nearly 300 public servants, including military officers, in a sweeping crackdown against corruption.
The kingdom’s anti-corruption body, Nazaha, said that 674 people had been investigated and 298 faced corruption charges related to bribery, embezzlement and waste of public money, totally about SR379m ($101m).
The government has pledged to tackle state-related graft. In November 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, oversaw an extraordinary anti-corruption drive that led to more than 300 princes and tycoons being detained at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh.
That was viewed in part as the young royal seeking to consolidate his power. Most of those detained were released, with many transferring assets and cash to the state to secure their freedom.
The government has said it hoped to recover $100bn from that purge, but it severely dented business confidence as some of the country’s highest-profile businessmen, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire investor, and prominent merchant families were caught up in the crackdown.
This month, at least two senior princes, including Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s brother, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a former crown prince and interior minister, were detained. Both were considered potential rivals to Prince Mohammed and their arrests appeared to be designed to send a message to other members of the royal family that any hints of disloyalty would not be tolerated. Recommended David Gardner Prince Mohammed strikes again with a palace coup and oil war.
The latest anti-corruption arrests appear to be targeting civil servants, including military officers and judiciary officials.
The suspects include eight defence ministry officers, including a major-general, 15 interior ministry officials, including a major-general and a brigadier-general, two judges, and health and education officials.
So, why has this been done? The BBC asked a similar question:
The unfortunate subjects of MBS’s ambition this time were other members of the Saud family – most notably one of his uncles, Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, a former interior minister; and a cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (known as MBN), a former crown prince and interior minister – who were detained for questioning and placed under investigation for treason, although no charges have been made.
Neither man possessed much power anymore: MBN had been unceremoniously dumped from office in 2017 as King Salman cleared the way for MBS – his son – to take the throne; and Prince Ahmad had preferred to spend his time and money in London before returning to the kingdom late last year.
The question many ask is why MBS decided to once again go after his rivals, especially given that they were already weakened and largely incapable of challenging his grip on power.
Only he will know the real answer, and in a country as opaque as Saudi Arabia it will be impossible to get the full truth from official Saudi sources.
But one thing is for certain – the young crown prince knew that there would be no great cost to him, either domestically or internationally.
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The BBC went on to add:
And so MBS has been able to do more or less as he pleases, securing power by ruthlessly isolating sectors of Saudi public life that stood in his way – be they clerics, rival relatives, businessmen or domestic pressure groups – and one by one crushing them with the full force of the state.
It is Dictator Politics 101, but in a 21st-Century style. Princes have been placed in comfortable surroundings, such as in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in 2017, and MBS has been careful to appear humble, as he did during MBN’s defenestration in the same year, kneeling and kissing his cousin’s hand in apparent supplication.
That MBS’s rise has come at the expense of MBN is not without a sense of irony. Until early 2017, Western policy makers were mostly in the camp of MBN, who was trusted and liked by security agencies across the world, and was seen by all who met him as a competent and worthy future king.
But as competent as MBN was in managing the kingdom’s national security portfolios, he was unprepared for, and was unable to match, MBS’s ambition and guile.
Power plays inside the Saudi royal family always set tongues wagging, and rumours abounded that King Salman was close to death, or that MBS sensed a palace coup was in the offing and moved quickly to snuff it out.
There was no truth to either of these claims, which ignored the far more obvious answer: it was a message from both Salman and MBS to the rest of the family to get into line, an act of discipline that will secure loyalty and remind everyone who the boss is.
This brings us to the complaint of Human Rights Watch.
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“The fight against corruption is no excuse for flagrant due process violations and preventing people from mounting an adequate defense,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Given their track record of abuse, the Saudi authorities should make fundamental reforms to the justice system to ensure that the accused will not be railroaded in unfair legal proceedings.”
According to HRW:
Saudi authorities should immediately reveal the legal and evidentiary basis for each person’s detention and make certain that each person detained can exercise their due process rights.
Saudi Arabia’s previous corruption crackdown, in November 2017, included the detention of dozens of prominent businessmen, royal family members, and current and former government officials for three months at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. While the people were in detention, the authorities pressured them to hand over assets to the state in exchange for their release, outside of any recognizable legal process. Some of those detained in November 2017 remain in detention without charge, including Turki bin Abdullah, the son of the late King Abdullah and the former governor of Riyadh; Adel al-Fakih, a former minister; and Bakr Binladin, a construction mogul.
On March 15, 2020, Saudi Arabia’s official government news agency announced the new arrests, stating that the Saudi state corruption watchdog had criminally investigated 674 state employees and ordered the detention of 298 for “financial and administrative corruption, consisting of bribery crimes, embezzlement and waste of public money, misuse of employment powers, and administrative misuse.” Among those detained are current and retired military officers, health officials, security officers under the Interior Ministry, and judges. The statement said that the acts of corruption amounted to 379 million Saudi Riyals ($101 million).
During the previous round of corruption arrests, Saudi Arabia flagrantly violated the rights of prominent Saudi businessmen, royal family members, and government officials held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel between November 2017 and February 2018. The authorities pressured detainees to hand over their assets in exchange for their release, and many detainees made deals, media reported. In March 2018, the New York Times reported that Saudi authorities used physical abuse to coerce detainees to hand over assets, stating that at least 17 detainees had required hospitalization.
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