Saudi governors, commanders fired over corruption at tourism projects

22/08/20

King Salman has issued a royal decree sacking a number of officials for legal violations in the Red Sea Project. (File/AFP)
  • Army officers among 298 people arrested over allegations of bribery, embezzlement and waste of public funds
  • The Saudi National Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) conducted dozens of “criminal investigation procedures” in March in relation to breaches of public duty

JEDDAH: Senior Saudi security commanders are among a number of officials who have been sacked over corruption at tourism projects, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Friday.

Those dismissed by royal decree include the governors of the Red Sea coastal cities of Umluj and Al-Wajh, the head of border security and other local commanders, as well as officials from the Interior Ministry.

They are under investigation for facilitating encroachment on government lands that are part of tourism projects under development along the Red Sea coast in the historic city of AlUla and the mountain resort of Abha. The violations had a “great impact on the completion of the projects” and caused “environmental damage,” according to SPA.

Saudi Arabia, which introduced tourist visas for the first time last year, has unveiled a series of multibillion-dollar tourism projects in an effort to diversify the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy.

This dismissals are part of the government’s latest crackdown on corruption. Saudi lawyer Dimah Talal Al-Sharif said that the laws on corruption are very clear, though cases can be complicated.

“Corruption cases are considered one of the most complex types of cases due to the overlap of many people and specialties in them,” she said.

It is an important requirement of such cases that the authorities take all necessary steps to provide proper protection for witnesses, she added. This is in keeping with the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, “which calls for the enactment of the necessary legislation to protect witnesses in corruption crimes in member states.” However, Al-Sharif said that it can be difficult to ensure their identities are not revealed, particularly in cases where a witness is one of few people with knowledge of the corruption.

BACKGROUND

They are accused of facilitating encroachment on government lands that are part of tourism projects along the Red Sea coast near AlUla and Abha.

The Saudi National Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) conducted dozens of “criminal investigation procedures” in March in relation to breaches of public duty. The initial investigation targeted 219 employees but in the end statements were taken from 674 people, 298 of whom were arrested over accusations of financial and administrative corruption, including bribery, embezzlement and waste of public funds. The total amount involved was SR379 million ($101 million), and the cases will be referred to the courts.

The suspects accused of bribery and money laundering include eight army officers, one of whom is a major general, and retired officers who allegedly misused their government contracts at the Ministry of Defense to commit financial crimes.

During a crackdown against corruption launched in 2017, hundreds of princes, ministers and businessmen were detained at the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital, Riyadh. Many were held there for weeks, although most were released after agreeing significant financial settlements. Authorities said they recovered more than SR400 billion.

Meanwhile, attorney general Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mua’jab has issued an order specifying a list of major crimes that require arrest, according to Article 112 of the Law on Criminal Procedure. The 25 classifications include: border crimes punishable by death or amputation; intentional or semi-intentional homicide; crimes against national security; offenses punishable by imprisonment for more than three years; crimes defined under law as major crimes requiring arrest; and other commercial crimes.

This article was first published in Arab News

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