OUT of the blue, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) ordered the arrest of a swathe of the country’s elite. He herded detained princes, ministers and businessmen into Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel.
MbS explained this arrest of 500 people and freezing of more than 2,000 bank accounts, in November 2017, as “a crackdown on corruption”.
Among the “guests” held at the plush Ritz prison was Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. Worth $18.7 billion, he is the wealthiest man in the Middle East. He has holdings in Twitter, Citigroup, Plaza Hotel, Uber’s rival Lyft, and other corporations.
The Saudi authorities said they had identified $400 billion in assets linked to corruption. Bin-Talal alone paid a whopping $6 billion for his eventual release.
So what was behind this surprise attack that MbS launched on the Saudi establishment? Some accepted it as a genuine assault on corruption. Others said the aim was to shovel more than $100 billion into the state’s coffers.
Cynics, including this blog, think the purge was nothing more than a show of power by MbS, as he ascends to the throne.
Apologists for him argue that the crown prince is a force for good. He is tackling corruption, enhancing women’s rights, and combating extreme Islamists. He has pure intentions. Really?
For three years MbS has managed the Saudi-led campaign against rebel forces in Yemen. The war has killed an estimated 4,770 civilians and injured 8,270 more. A Saudi naval blockade of Sana’a has left tens of thousands starving, including children.
MbS owns a $300 million chateau and a $550 million yacht that he bought on a whim from a Russian billionaire. Recently, he was the mystery buyer of a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting.
So is MbS a reforming angel who cares about curbing expenses and purging corruption?
No, we think not. There's nothing to see here.