Time: January 21, 2018
JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has dismissed claims that the anti-corruption drive in the Kingdom, which led to the arrest of several prominent royals, was a power grab, saying such comments were “ludicrous.”
He added that the public prosecutor believed the amount of funds that could eventually be recovered could amount to $100 billion.
The crown prince told the New York Times that many of those being held in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton had pledged allegiance to him and the proposed reforms.
Adding that he also had the support of most key royals, he said: “Our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom. Over the years the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up.”
He said when his father King Salman, who was clear of any corruption charges, came to power, they decided it was time to put an end to the problems tarnishing the country’s reputation.
“My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption — at the top,” the crown prince said.
He added that the team took two years to piece together the “most accurate information,” which finally led to the production of a list of 200 names.
Each of the billionaires and princes accused of corruption was arrested, presented with the evidence and given the choice to come clean, the crown prince said.
He added that about 95 percent agreed to settle, signing over cash or shares in their businesses to the Saudi State Treasury.
The crown prince said a further 1 percent were able to prove their innocence, while the remaining 4 percent insisted they were not corrupt and wanted to go to court with their lawyers.
He said it was not possible to get rid of all corruption, but the current drive would send a signal that there is no escape.
Asked about his recent comments about moving Saudi Arabia to a more moderate and tolerant form of Islam, he said: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and (daily life in) Saudi Arabia before 1979.”
During this time, he explained, the Kingdom had musical theaters, men and women mixing, and respect for Christians and Jews. He added that the first commercial judge in Madinah was a woman.
The crown prince praised US President Donald Trump, describing him as “the right person at the right time.”
He said Saudi Arabia is slowly building a coalition with its allies to “stand up to Iran.”
The crown prince said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the “new Hitler of the Middle East,” adding: “But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
Asked why he was implementing reforms at such a determined pace, he replied: “I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind.”
He said life is too short, but he is determined to make change happen in his lifetime.