November 8, 2017 / 11:23 AM / a month ago

Saudi Arabia makes further anti-graft arrests-sources

RIYADH, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian authorities have made further arrests in an anti-corruption crackdown on the kingdom’s political and business elite, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have already been held in the purge announced on Saturday and face allegations of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.

But the sources, speaking on Wednesday, said a number of additional individuals suspected of wrongdoing have been detained in a continuation of the crackdown.

A number of those held most recently include individuals with links to the immediate family of the late Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz who died in 2011, the sources said.

Others appear to be lower-level managers and officials, one of the sources said.

Many Saudis have cheered the purge as an attack on the theft of state funds by the rich, and U.S. President Donald Trump said those arrested had been “‘milking’ their country for years”.

But some Western officials expressed unease at the possible reaction in the opaque tribal and royal politics of the world’s largest oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia’s stock market continued to fall in early trade on Wednesday because of concern about the economic impact of its anti-corruption purge. The Saudi index .TASI was 1.0 percent lower after half an hour of trade. Shares in companies linked to people detained in the investigation slid further.

Late on Tuesday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi central bank sought to ease worries about the probe.

They said that while individuals were being targeted and having their bank accounts frozen, national and multinational companies - including those wholly or partly owned by individuals under investigation - would not be disrupted.

Anti-corruption authorities have also frozen the bank accounts of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, one of the most senior members of the ruling Al Saud, and some of his immediate family members, the sources added.

Prince Mohammed, or MbN as he is known, was ousted as Crown Prince in June when King Salman replaced him with the then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man behind the anti-graft drive.

Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, one regional banker said, declining to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

The number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is over 1,700 and rising, up from 1,200 reported on Tuesday, banking sources said

MbN made his first confirmed public appearance since his ousting at the funeral on Tuesday for Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, deputy governor of Asir province, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. No cause has been given for the crash.

Among business executives detained in the probe so far are billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding; Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel; and Amr al-Dabbagh, chairman of builder Red Sea International.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had urged Saudi Arabia to carry out any prosecution of officials detained in a sweeping crackdown on corruption in a “fair and transparent” manner. (Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Stephen Kalin, Katie Paul, Reem Shamseddine and Andrew Torchia, Writing by William Maclean, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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