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Saudi graft settlements could reap billions of dollars

Official estimates $50 bn to $100 bn may be recovered; probe widens to include retired military officers

Riad Hamade & Alaa Shahine | Bloomberg 

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Saudi authorities estimate they may be able to recover as much as $100 billion from settlement talks with suspects detained in an anti-corruption crackdown that has implicated prominent princes, officials and billionaires, a senior official said.

Suspects are offered settlements to avoid trial, the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. If they accept, talks are then carried out by a special committee to work out the details. The talks involve the amounts authorities believe suspects have amassed illegally, not their entire wealth, and authorities estimate the state could recover between $50 billion and $100 billion, the official said.

The purge, which saw royals and billionaires such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, shook the kingdom and reverberated through capitals and financial centres as diplomats, bankers and analysts sought to figure out its impact on wealthy clients as well as the struggle for power in the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah was held in the crackdown and also fired from his post as head of the powerful National Guard, a move that reinforced speculation that King Salman was preparing to hand over power to his son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed 
bin Salman.

The purge has widened to the military. The senior official said 14 retired officers who worked at the Ministry of Defence and two retired National Guard officers had been detained on suspicion of being involved in financial contracts that were deemed corrupt. No active-duty officers have been arrested, he said.

Saudi Arabia’s market regulator has frozen the trading accounts of people detained or investigated, people familiar with the matter have said. Saudi authorities allege at least $100 billion has been siphoned off over decades through corruption and embezzlement.

The purge won’t harm foreign investment or the kingdom’s plan for an initial public offering of its oil company, Energy and Industry Minister Khalid Al-Falih said.

“I am in touch with many foreign investors, everybody understands that this is a very limited domestic affair,” Al-Falih told reporters on the sidelines of the Bonn climate conference. “The government is simply cleaning house for something that is way overdue.”

First Published: Sun, November 19 2017. 01:05 IST
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