Saudi Arabia making all-out efforts to fight graft

Time: April 16, 2018

RIYADH: Protecting integrity and fighting corruption in privatization programs is the subject of the third International Nazaha Conference to be launched on Wednesday under the patronage of King Salman.
Organized by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (Nazaha), the conference will take place at a local hotel.
Dr. Khaled bin Abdulmohsen Al-Muhaisen, president of Nazaha, has thanked King Salman for sponsoring the conference, which he said is part of Saudi Arabia’s continuous efforts to fight corruption at the local and international levels in line with its Vision 2030. The Kingdom is keen to involve the international community in enhancing these efforts and to benefit from the experiences of other countries and international organizations, he said.
Dr. Bandar bin Ahmed Abalkhail and Abdulmohsen bin Mohammed Al-Monaif, vice presidents of the commission, said Nazaha has endless support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Abalkhail said the Kingdom had started implementing many programs including privatization, and the commission is working on achieving its objectives in this field to benefit from global experiences and practices through the organization of conferences on transparency, integrity and anti-corruption.
The conference aims to raise awareness of the importance of fighting corruption, discussing the risks of corruption and appropriate preventive measures, and discussing the impact of privatization programs in reducing corruption practices.
The conference will host 36 experts from within and outside the Kingdom and will include six sessions and three workshops.
Dr. Khalid bin Saleh Al-Sultan, Rector of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, will be the first keynote speaker, and the second will be Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Madhy, president of the General Establishment of Military Industries.
The first session will be entitled “Protecting Integrity in Privatization Programs” and will cover the following topics: Corruption risk assessment, ways to strengthen preventive measures, the role of competent entities in following up the privatization process, the efficiency of laws, policies and procedures, and the role of civil society institutions and the media.
Keynote speaker of day two will be Dr. Christopher MacKee, chief executive at The PRS Group.
Nazaha will hold three workshops specializing in fighting corruption.

This article was first published in Arab News

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When Disruption Is a Royal Prerogative

Time: April 01, 2018

With the kingdom’s oil wealth dwindling, the Saudi heir purges his rivals and the elite. But to what purpose?

By Peter Waldman and Glen Carey

—With Vivian Nereim and Alaa Shahine

It makes sense to be cynical about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ostensible crackdown on corruption in Saudi Arabia. Among the 11 princes, 4 ministers, and dozens of well-known businessmen arrested were some of the 32-year-old’s last potential rivals to the Saudi throne. The move also smacks of an asset snatch. Police nabbed 3 of the Arab world’s 10 richest men, including investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (page 25), the billionaire best known for rescuing Citicorp in 1991 and making big bets on Apple Inc. and 21st Century Fox Inc. But was it only a Machiavellian power play? Or is this the start of a dramatic, go-for-broke attempt to transform a country that’s resisted change for decades?

Prince Mohammed seems to be playing the equally ruthless roles of autocrat and reformer. The millennial has been outspoken about his bold plans to modernize Saudi society and wean the kingdom from fossil fuel. Now, Prince Mohammed has locked up globe-trotting tycoons and other dynastic rivals, sending shock waves across the desert and around the world. Since Saudi Arabia’s founding in 1932 by his grandfather, Abdulaziz Al Saud, successive kings have sought consensus among the family’s thousands of princes, balancing religious, princely, and tribal factions to maintain stability in the world’s largest oil supplier. Decisions were made at a glacial pace, often capped with generous payouts for anyone left unhappy. Prince Mohammed has smashed that conservative status quo in an act, he no doubt believes, of creative destruction.

This is a man of dead-certain belief in himself, who told this magazine in a long, autobiographical interview in April 2016 that his childhood experiences among princes and potentates were more valuable and formative than Steve Jobs’s, Mark Zuckerberg’s, and Bill Gates’s. So, he wondered aloud, “if I work according to their methods, what will I create?” Now we know his disruptive potential.

The prince’s unprecedented arrest of a who’s who of Saudi society is a first stab at fulfilling his vow to hold the corrupt accountable. “I confirm to you, no one will survive in a corruption case—whoever he is, even if he’s a prince or a minister,” Prince Mohammed said in a televised interview in May. The vow has now become a Twitter sensation among Saudis under the age of 30, who make up 70 percent of the population, the demographic bulge the prince has made his base. They’re still plenty skeptical of Prince Mohammed and his father the king, who recently visited Moscow with 1,500 retainers, his own carpets, and a golden escalator for his Boeing 747.

No one imagined the crown prince would go so far. The takedown, set up by his father, King Salman, through a new anticorruption commission that Prince Mohammed chairs, rounded up his most visible potential adversary, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah. A favored son of the late King Abdullah, who died in 2015, Miteb, 65, commanded the Saudi National Guard, which, until his arrest, had been the last military branch not under Prince Mohammed’s control.

Other detainees included princes and ministers who have been linked to questionable, if not corrupt, transactions. Prince Turki bin Nasser, for example, is infamous for his involvement in the so-called Al Yamamah arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia, a massive sale that led to corruption probes in the U.K. and the U.S. Adel Fakeih, a top economic policymaker before his Nov. 4 arrest, was mayor of Jeddah during a flood in 2009 during which scores of people died because of the failure of infrastructure, apparently shoddily made. Dozens of people were convicted of criminal charges including bribery, but not Fakeih, who was never charged and went on to serve as a minister in Riyadh for an additional half-dozen years.

Ever since the floods, Abdullah Jaber, a popular Saudi cartoonist, has drawn caricatures of Fakeih, without naming him, to symbolize the toll of corruption on Saudi Arabia. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he read Fakeih had been arrested and that the Jeddah flood case had been reopened. “I still can’t absorb the greatness of what has happened,” Jaber said in a Twitter post.

In total, the government froze bank accounts of the more than three dozen men detained, putting about $33 billion of personal wealth at risk. Three of the detainees, Alwaleed among them, own three of the largest privately held television networks in the country. Saudi authorities also moved to freeze the private accounts of hundreds more suspected of corruption but not yet arrested. The crackdown is Prince Mohammed’s strongest blow yet at the rentier state, the system of gatekeepers, sinecures, and handouts that’s sapped the incentive in Saudi Arabia for entrepreneurship to flourish, the prince has said.

The question now, for hopeful Saudi and foreign investors, is whether the prince builds on the anticorruption momentum with new rules to open up an economy until now dominated by princes and their cronies as well as wealthy families. Ayham Kamel, a director with Eurasia Group, says the crackdown will help. “Mohammed bin Salman is in effect taking steps to separate the Al Saud family from the state,” Kamel wrote in a note on Nov. 6. “The process of destroying old elite networks that monopolized access to profitable contracts bodes well for the business environment.”

Robert Jordan, the former corporate lawyer who served as George W. Bush’s ambassador in Riyadh, said if Prince Mohammed’s anticorruption campaign is real, “it will add credibility to the Saudi business posture, to its operations, and to the potential IPO of Aramco,” the Saudi national oil company. “If it turns out to simply be a power grab,” he told Bloomberg Television, “then I think it will hurt the Saudis in the long run and certainly hurt this crown prince.”

One downside, of course, is more repression, wielded by a headstrong prince cocksure he knows what’s best for society. He told Bloomberg last month that a $500 billion city he wants to build on the Red Sea “represents a civilizational leap for humanity,” with a bayside community to become “like the Hamptons in New York.” While the prince has reined in the religious police and taken the once-unthinkable step of allowing women to drive, he’s shown little interest in participatory governance. The government has promised a transparent judicial process for the detainees but still hasn’t disclosed specific charges against any of them.

“The one positive thing is that maybe things will get more equitable, more meritocratic,” says a young Saudi management consultant who, tellingly, declines to be named. “It’s also scary. There’s no due process, and people can disappear.”

Some Saudis are nervous that Prince Mohammed’s bellicose campaign against Iran will lead to war. Nerves frayed on Nov. 4 when a missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen was shot down on its way to Riyadh, the farthest encroachment yet into Saudi territory by a Houthi-fired missile. The Saudis blamed Iran for supplying the missile and said they reserved the right to respond. Iran rejected the allegation and accused Saudi Arabia of threatening an attack. The kingdom has also intensified its anti-Iran rhetoric over proxy conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. “Confrontations will widen with Iran’s unchecked expansion,” Abdulrahman Al Rashid, a prominent columnist for the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote on Nov. 7. “Strengthening local militias in unstable countries remains the only path forward.”

The prince is racing the clock. When he and his father came to power in 2015, oil prices had recently plummeted, leaving the country in imminent danger of a budget meltdown. They slashed spending and reduced subsidies for energy and water, grounding the economy to a halt. With little prospect that oil prices will rise much higher, the country has only about four more years at its current rate of deficit spending until its currency reserves are depleted. “Four years is not a long time; time is running out,” says Ziad Daoud, an economist with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Recent history doesn’t bode well for anticorruption reformers, Daoud says. Chinese President Xi Jinping instituted a similar purge for a few years, only to backtrack on economic reforms after some of his rivals had been vanquished, the economist says. And each time the prince has assumed more power, such as in June when he usurped his older cousin as crown prince, he’s given generous handouts to the public.

“This time could be different. You never know,” Daoud says. “Now that Prince Mohammed has unrivaled and unprecedented power, he may forge ahead with his reform agenda. It’s highly uncertain.”

This article was first published in MAGTER

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Saudi Ministry of Justice penalizes notary public for $106 mln fraud

Time: March 27, 2018

The Ministry of Justice seized the records and properties of the head of a notary public office for committing violations while he was on the job.

The Ministry of Justice previously reported that the head of the notary office and a number of employees were under investigation for committing fraud and extorting SR400 million.

Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice with the names and ID numbers of the head of the notary office, his three wives and 29 children after he was proven guilty of fraud and extortion.

Ministry of Justice Spokesman Sheikh Mansour Al-Qafari said the ministry runs regular auditing on all transactions by the notaries public.

“The ministry detected discrepancies in the notary records. All individuals involved were investigated and the ministry found out that ownership deeds of a land that cost SR400 million were forged. The head of the notary office was involved in the fraudulent transaction and the ministry seized his properties as well as records in his office,” said Al-Qafari.

This article was first published in Anti-Corruption Digest

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Saudi provinces to get Public Prosecution units

Time: March 22, 2018

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution will set up investigation units in every province of the Kingdom, including the Tabuk region, Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al-Mojeb said. Speaking during a tour of Tabuk, Al-Mojeb said the move would “achieve justice and reach positive outcomes in cases sent to the Public Prosecution.”
The Public Prosecution is determined to exercise its full powers, and protect public and private rights, particularly in its investigations into corruption, he said. “The doors of the Public Prosecution are always open to all parties concerned with the fight against corruption,” Al-Mojeb said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Detainees held at Saudi Arabia’s Ritz-Carlton released or moved, 56 remain in custody: Attorney General

Time: March 21, 2018

DUBAI: The Saudi Arabian Attorney General, Sheikh Saud Al-Mojeb, said on Tuesday that 56 corruption suspects remained in custody out of the 381 high profile figures detained on graft allegations.
He said he decided to release all those proven not guilty, as well as others who had agreed financial settlements with the government after admitting to corruption allegations.
Mojeb said the total settlements with the suspects had topped $107 billion, which came in various forms of assets.
News broke earlier on Tuesday that Saudi authorities had released all remaining detainees from Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which had been used as an interrogation center in a crackdown on corruption, according to a Saudi official.
“There are no longer any detainees left at the Ritz-Carlton,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity under briefing rules.
He did not say how many suspects remained in detention at other locations in Saudi Arabia. Some are believed to have been moved from the Ritz to prison after refusing to admit wrongdoing and reach financial settlements with the authorities.
He said those who remained in custody were still under investigation as the legal procedures continued.
Among top businessmen caught up in the purge were Prince Alwaleed, owner of global investor Kingdom Holding, and Waleed Al-Ibrahim, who controls influential regional broadcaster MBC.
MBC said the investigation found Ibrahim completely innocent of wrongdoing and Prince Alwaleed has insisted he is innocent, although Saudi officials said both men agreed to settlements after admitting unspecified “violations.”
In an interview with Reuters at his suite in the Ritz-Carlton hours before he was released on Saturday, Prince Alwaleed said he had been well-treated in custody and described his case as the result of a misunderstanding.
He showed off the comforts of his suite’s gold-accented private office, a dining room and a kitchen which was fully stocked with his preferred vegetarian meals.
The hotel has 492 guest rooms and suites and 52 acres (21 hectares) of landscaped gardens, according to its website. It has said it will reopen to the public in mid-February, with a nightly rate for its cheapest room of $650.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Prince Alwaleed supports Saudi’s anti-corruption crackdown

Time: March 19, 2018

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said that he supported the kingdom’s sweeping crackdown on corruption in which he was detained along with more than 200 other high-profile figures.

“I am for the anti-corruption [crackdown] that took place in Saudi Arabia. Now, unfortunately, I was added to that group, but fortunately, I am out of it right now and life is back to normal,” he told Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker in an interview set to air on Tuesday.

“So, I am not a person who is going to come and say – you know – I forgive but don’t forget. I say ‘I forgive and I forget’ at the same time also.”

Prince Alwaleed, one of the country’s most prominent tycoons, was released late January after more than two months of detention at the opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Mr Schatzker said that Prince Alwaleed confirmed an agreement was reached between him and the Saudi government, the details of which have yet to be disclosed.

Prince Alwaleed continued to maintain his innocence of any corruption, saying in an earlier interview with Reuters that his detention was a misunderstanding

He also has said that he expected to keep full control of his global investment firm Kingdom Holding and that he supported reform efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Directly or indirectly through Kingdom Holding, Prince Alwaleed holds stakes in firms, such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc, and has invested in top hotels including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York. His net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at US$17 billion.

More than 200 royals, officials and businessmen were arrested in the probe in November last year as part of a crackdown launched by Crown Prince Mohammed to fight corruption in the country.

This article was first published in The National

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Anti-corruption purge was ‘extremely necessary’, says Saudi Crown Prince

Time: March 19, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge was “extremely necessary” to send a clear message to others in the kingdom, according to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary,” the Crown Prince told CBS 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast on Sunday night. “All actions were taken in accordance with existing laws and published laws.”

In the same segment, one of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisors, Harvard-educated lawyer Mohammed Al Sheikh, estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of funds spent by the government each year – between $10 and $20 billion – were disappearing due to corruption.

60 Minutes

@60Minutes

One of the crown prince’s most trusted advisors, Saudi-born, Harvard-trained lawyer Mohammed al-Sheikh says detaining the accused was necessary.

“But the real objective was not this amount or any other amount,” he added. “The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law.”

Prince Mohammed rejected accusations that the anti-corruption purge was a power grab against his political rivals inside Saudi Arabia.

“If I have the power and the king has the power to take action against influential people, then you are already fundamentally strong,” he said. “These are naïve accusations.”

Prince Mohammed also addressed questions about his personal wealth, following media reports that he allegedly purchased a half billion dollar yacht, a chateau in the French Alps for over $300 million, and a Leonardo Da Vinci painting for $450 million.

60 Minutes

@60Minutes

Mohammed bin Salman is trying to keep pace with a population that’s as familiar with American celebrity culture as they are with the tales of the Prophet Muhammad. The Saudis are in the midst of their own cultural revolution.

“My personal life is something that I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it,” he said. “If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them.

“I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” he added. “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”

According to Prince Mohammed, 51 percent of his personal income is spent on other people, and on charity.

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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Saudi sets up departments to investigate, prosecute corruption cases

Time: March 11, 2018

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman has ordered the establishment of specialized departments in the public prosecutor’s office to investigate and prosecute corruption cases, the government’s information office said in a statement on Sunday.

The move is intended to increase effectiveness and accelerate the process of combating corruption, the statement quoted Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mujib as saying.

Saudi authorities detained hundreds of top businessmen and royals in November and held them for several months at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in a sweeping anti-corruption probe.

Most detainees have since been released after reaching financial settlements with the government, but several dozen others remain in custody and may stand trial.

Officials have not released the names of those still held, the allegations against them or plans for how the cases could be prosecuted.

This article was first published in Reuters

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Saudi crown prince says reforms aimed at ‘cancer’ of corruption

Time: February 28, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince says the anti-corruption drive launched late last year is the “shock therapy” his kingdom needs to root out widespread graft.

“You have a body that has cancer everywhere, the cancer of corruption. You need to have chemo, the shock of chemo, or the cancer will eat the body,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday night.

“The kingdom couldn’t meet budget targets without halting this looting,” he said.

In the latest move for change, a dramatic shake-up announced in royal decrees late Monday saw top brass, including the chief of staff and heads of the ground forces and air defence, replaced and a broad defence reform plan approved. The government bureaucracy is also to be overhauled.

The crown prince said the shake-up announced by his aging father, King Salman, was aimed at installing “high energy” people who could achieve modernisation targets.

“We want to work with believers,” the crown prince told the US paper.

The changing of the military guard came just a month shy of the third anniversary of the launch of a Saudi-led intervention to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Prince Mohammed has been the main driver of the once-staid kingdom’s more aggressive regional push since he took over as defence minister in early 2015.

But despite a multi-billion dollar military campaign, the coalition has failed to defeat the Houthis in a conflict that the United Nations says has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The war’s failures have exposed the limitations of Saudi Arabia’s military might and accelerated the need to reform what is seen as a sclerotic military establishment.

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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