Saudi Arabia: arrests continue 

Summary: waves of Saudi officials are arrested on corruption charges; a second businessman comes forward saying MbS’s “anti-corruption” crackdown means he has not been paid.

Saudi Arabia’s Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) arrested a total of 250 government officials and employees in November, the Saudi Gazette reported, up from 172 “citizens and expats” arrested the previous month for crimes including corruption, bribery, abuse of power and forgery. According to Saudi media the detained come from all walks of life, including employees at the Ministries of Defence, Interior, National Guard, Foreign Affairs, Health, Environment, Water, Agriculture, and General Presidency of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Prince Fahd bin Turki
Prince Fahd bin Turki was relieved from his position upon a royal decree issued on 31 August 2020 [photo credit: SPA]
Among the many prominent figures swept up in MbS’s anti-corruption campaign in recent months is Prince Fahd bin Turki, who was the commander of the Saudi-led coalition joint forces operating in Yemen until his abrupt dismissal last year. The reason for his detention remains unclear. Some say he was plotting a coup while others say it was because of his growing influence over the Saudi armed forces and among Yemeni tribes; yet others say he was arrested because his son used his influence as deputy governor to allow one of King Abdullah’s daughters to be smuggled out of the country.

What is clear since the crackdown on the royal family began in 2017 with the Ritz-Carlton round-up is that imprisoning many of the country’s richest and most powerful men not only had a deeply chilling effect on the Saudi economy at the time, but its impact has continued to trickle slowly down through Saudi business circles since then, as more and more businessmen have found that because their prince is in prison they are not going to get paid.

We reported in a previous newsletter how Saudi businessman Nader bin Turki launched a US court case against MbS, as well as other Saudi entities, alleging that by freezing and seizing Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s assets MbS had obstructed his payment. Now another businessman has come forward claiming much the same thing. Jordanian businessman Zayed Ibrahim Khalaf al-Drabkih accuses Saudi Princess al-Bandary bint Sultan Al-Saud of owing him US$6.584 million in regards a loan he says he made to her back in 2010. Princess al-Bandary herself is in Saudi Arabia and has not publicly commented on the allegation. Arab Digest has been unable to reach her for comment.

Princess al-Bandary is the daughter of Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud who before his death in 2011 served for half a century as Minister of Defence and Aviation. By the time he died Prince Sultan had become one of the wealthiest Saudi princes and he left behind a vast inheritance reported to be worth SAR 490 billion [£98.91 bn]  and this was just the amount which was known and reported – even more was thought to have been concealed. Other royal family members have told Arab Digest the true value of Prince Sultan’s estate was in fact around SAR 830 billion [£167.45 bn].

Princess al-Bandary should therefore have inherited a fortune. The anonymous Saudi opposition blogger Mujtahidd reported that each of Sultan’s wives and 30-odd sons were to receive SAR 10 billion [£2.02 bn] apiece and each of his daughters SAR 5 billion [£1.01 bn]. However, as so often seems to be the case in the royal family when it comes to dividing a vast fortune between dozens of wives and children from different mothers, that rather than proceed customarily and split it according to Islamic law, as Sultan lay on his deathbed his eldest son Prince Khaled, the former deputy Minister of Defence, and the head of his private office, Abdullah bin Mushabab al-Shehri, hatched a plan to embezzle the majority of his estate for themselves. In Sultan’s final days SAR 160 billion [£32.28 bn] of his assets are said to have been registered in Khaled’s name and another SAR 85 billion [£17.15 bn] in the name of Khaled’s late mother, in accounts he controlled, including palaces in Riyadh, the Eastern Province and Paris.

But the snake pit of Saudi politics being as it is, the two did not get to enjoy their ill-gotten gains for long. Six years after they stole Princess al- Bandary’s inheritance, along with that belonging to the rest of Prince Sultan’s inheritors, they themselves were shaken down by MbS.

When in November 2017 he ordered the arrest and detention of hundreds of prominent Saudi businessmen in the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, under the pretext of “fighting corruption” the sons of Prince Sultan were among those who were particularly targeted, along with the sons of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, King Abdullah and Prince Nayef because these are the main rival family branches to King Salman’s. As Arab Digest reported at the time, the detainees were tortured and forced to hand over all their assets and at least one person died, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Turki bin Abdullah.

According to sources close to Mr al-Drabkih, Khaled bin Sultan was among those detained in the Ritz-Carlton and forced to sign a settlement with MbS’s two right hand men who coordinated the purge, Saud Al Qahtani and Turki Al Sheikh, stripping him of all his wealth. Mr al-Drabkih’s spokesman and business partner Rafi Abu Fada told Arab Digest all of Sultan’s branch of the family are now subject to strict controls by MbS, they are closely monitored by a special department at the Royal Court and unable to withdraw more than SAR 20,000 [c. £4,034]  from their accounts each day, making it impossible for Princess al-Bandary to pay him back.

Among all the children of Prince Sultan only one reached a settlement with MbS which allowed him to go free and keep his money – the former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The condition was that he would use his connections and influence to support MbS’s bid for the throne, which he duly did and two of his children are currently the Saudi ambassadors to the UK and US.

Abdullah bin Mushabab al-Shehri, the head of Prince Sultan’s office who helped Prince Khaled embezzle Prince Sultan’s estate, was also detained in the Ritz where he was forced to hand over SAR 7 billion [£1.41 bn] to MbS. The experience reportedly drove him insane and he is now a permanent in-patient in Shahar Hospital for Mental Health in Taif.

There are many similarities between Zayed al-Drabkih’s case and that of Nader bin Turki’s and both cast light on what it is like doing business in the top echelons of the Saudi royal family. Both businessmen claim they are not being paid because their patrons have been targeted by MbS’s anti-corruption campaign. Both tried in vain for years to seek restitution the traditional Saudi way, behind closed doors using the influence of other royal family members and lawyers, before they finally gave up and decided to go public. The key difference is that while Nader bin Turki filed suit in Pennsylvania where he can expect justice, Zayed’s situation took place entirely in the UAE and Saudi Arabia where there is no recourse legal or otherwise against any member of the Saudi royal family – unless you are MbS.

This newsletter has been corrected to say Prince Khaled and Abdullah bin Mushabab al-Shehri were detained by MBS six years after they stole Princess al-Bandary’s inheritance, not two years.

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