Saudi Emblem. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia
Over the weekend the Saudi government detained dozens of the country’s most powerful princes, military officers, businessmen, and government officials. Included in the sweep is prince al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, worth over $16 billion, by some reports. Also taken into custody were two sons of the late King Abdullah, who might have been considered possible rivals to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A committee has now been established with broad powers to investigate cases, issue arrest warrants, and seize assets. Reports indicate that the many of the detained officials are being held in the five-star Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, which is no longer taking reservations.
Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh. Source: Ritz-Carlton
The Saudis claim that this is part of an anti-corruption campaign, consistent with bin Salman’s promise to increase transparency, wean their economy from its dependence on oil, and enact free market reforms – reforms needed to attract greater international investment. But it also consolidates bin Salman’s control of the county’s military, media, and economy.
In many ways, this is a classic power move among oligarchs, with one faction asserting control over the others. Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power has been faster than most observers expected, and he has been critical his ultra-conservative oil-rich homeland. But if he wants to attract foreign investors, detaining domestic ones is an unorthodox way to start.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA