Men jailed for bribes after deadly Saudi floods

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Two men have been jailed in one of the first convictions in a Saudi Arabian corruption crackdown started after deadly floods hit Jeddah in 2009 and 2011, local media reported on Wednesday.

The deluges killed more than 100 people, stirring accusations that corrupt officials had allowed the construction of residential neighborhoods in flood-prone areas, ultimately prompting a government investigation.

“The ... defendants are convicted of the crime of bribery ... Each will be jailed for five years, starting from their detention date, and will be fined 700,000 riyals ($186,000),” al-Madina daily newspaper said, quoting a court report on Tuesday’s sentencing.

One of the men, an official who worked at the Jeddah municipality, was accused of receiving a bribe from the other, a businessman, in order to expedite a land sale.

In two cases heard last week, Jeddah’s court of grievances sentenced one group of five men and another two men to prison terms and fines.

Those convictions were the first to emerge from the investigation.

Many of the houses damaged by the flood were built on low-lying land and the situation was made worse by the absence of a city-wide drainage system. The floods spread after just a few hours of torrential rainfall,

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy with no elected parliament and little tolerance for public dissent. Most senior government positions are occupied by high ranking royals, some of whom have major business interests.

King Abdullah ordered an investigation into corrupt practices linked to the floods in 2009. But Jeddah residents remain skeptical about the probe and trials that followed.

“It was a very big crisis. As a man of justice I don’t believe that the investigation has included all parties,” said Suliman al-Jumai, a Saudi lawyer and Jeddah resident.

“I have noticed that the ceiling for questioning stopped at the mayor or vice mayors. Where are the officials in the ministries who are supposed to supervise,” he added.

Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Angus McDowall and Andrew Heavens