World Economy

Saudi Princes, Ministers, Ex-Ministers Arrested on Corruption Charges

The newly formed anti-corruption committee detained 11 princes and four sitting ministers on Saturday. In addition, three ministers were removed from their positions and tens of former ministers were detained
Saudi Princes, Ministers, Ex-Ministers Arrested on Corruption ChargesSaudi Princes, Ministers, Ex-Ministers Arrested on Corruption Charges

Saudi Arabia’s stock market fell in early trade on Sunday after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moved to consolidate his power and crack down on corruption with a cabinet reshuffle and a string of detentions of prominent figures.

Saudi Arabia's newly formed anti-corruption committee detained 11 princes and four sitting ministers on Saturday. In addition, three ministers were removed from their positions and tens of former ministers were detained as part of the new anti-corruption campaign initiated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, news outlets reported.

According to Saudi TV, the three men removed from their posts were Economy and Planning Minister Adel bin Mohammed Faqih, National Guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Naval Forces Commander Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan.

The detention of Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, known for his big bets on Citigroup and other top western companies, could have an impact on billions of dollars of investments around the world.

For many foreigners, Prince Alwaleed—whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17 billion—is the face of Saudi business, appearing frequently on international television and in articles on his investments and lifestyle.

A 2013 Forbes magazine profile described his marble-filled, 420-room Riyadh palace, a private Boeing 747 equipped with a throne, and his 120-acre resort on the edge of the Saudi capital with five homes, five artificial lakes and a mini-Grand Canyon.

Aside from a stake in Citigroup, Prince Alwaleed, 62, owns significant stakes in Twitter, ride-hailing firm Lyft and Time Warner. He also recently bought about half of a 31.1% stake in Saudi lender Banque Saudi Fransi from France's Credit Agricole.

Shares Dive

Shares in Kingdom Holding, 95% of which is owned by the billionaire, dived 9.9%, its 52-week low, as the Saudi stock exchange opened Sunday after reports of his arrest.

The Saudi Tadawul All-Shares Index also dropped 1.6% only a minute after the start of trading on the Arab world’s largest stock market. The broader Tadawul index also fell 2.08% to be at 6,812.1.

The Kingdom Holding share price did not slide further because, under the rules of the Saudi exchange, stocks are only allowed to fall a maximum of 10% in a single trading session. Since the start of 2017, Kingdom Holding has lost around 15% of its market value.

Kingdom Holding is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important investors with shares in the Euro Disney theme park, US tech giant Apple and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, among others.

It also has key stakes in banks at home and abroad, as well as a number of investment, media and agricultural companies.

The Saudi equities index was down 1% after 25 minutes of trade as declining stocks overwhelmed advancers by 155 to 15. Shares in National Industrialization Co., in which Kingdom holds a 6.2% stake, fell 1.3% and Banque Saudi Fransi, in which Kingdom bought a 16.2% stake in September, sank 2.8%.

However, much of the market escaped panic selling and some blue chips were little changed, with top petrochemical producer Saudi Basic Industries down only 0.2%.

Markets Anxious

Analysts said the news worried the stock market because businessmen implicated in the probe might end up having to sell some of their equity holdings, which could temporarily at least weaken prices. New investment in the market by the businessmen could shrink.

However, they said local investors might ultimately welcome the prospect of Prince Mohammed increasing his power and reducing uncertainty about his authority. Economic reforms such as privatization and development projects could potentially now move faster.

Elsewhere in the Persian Gulf Arab states, Dubai’s stock market fell 0.9% as the most heavily traded stock, Deyaar Development, lost 1.9%. Qatar’s stock index dropped 0.6% in a broad-based decline, with nine of the 10 most active stocks weaker.

A royal decree, issued by King Salman earlier, said the committee was needed "due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds" and will "trace and combat corruption at all levels," according to the Saudi TV.

The committee, headed by Mohammed bin Salman, has the authority to investigate, arrest, issue travel bans and freeze the assets of those it finds corrupt.


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