RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz said on Wednesday his government was determined to confront corruption with “justice and decisiveness”, signalling continued support for a crackdown on sleaze involving mass arrests of top Saudis including royals.
In a televised speech to the country’s consultative Shura council, Salman also said the world’s largest oil exporter will work to enable the private sector to become a partner in the kingdom’s economic diversification drive away from petroleum.
Saudi security forces rounded up hundreds of members of the political and business elite, including princes and tycoons, in early November: Riyadh said it was a crackdown on corruption but the move was also widely seen as helping Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tighten his grip on power.
The purge has caused concern about damage to the economy, especially among foreign investors the kingdom is seeking to attract. But the government has insisted it is respecting due process and that the companies of detained businessmen will continue operating normally.
In a speech focused on economic issues, Salman said the kingdom was pushing ahead with its “Vision 2030” economic reform plan to find new sources of revenue for the OPEC powerhouse.
But he said that corruption was one of the main threats to economic development.
“We have decided, with God’s help, to confront it (corruption) with justice and decisiveness so that our country can enjoy the renaissance and development that every citizen aspires for,” he said.
Signaling his support for the campaign of arrests, he said that he had ordered the formation of a higher committee against corruption headed by the crown prince.
“Thanks be to God that those are a few (people),” he said, referring to the number of arrestees.
The public prosecutor said last week that most of those detained in the anti-corruption campaign have agreed to settlements to avoid prosecution, while the rest could be held for months.
Salman said the restructuring the kingdom was undertaking did not contradict its Islamic values, which he said were based on moderate Islam.
“There is no place among us for an extremist who sees moderation as deviation, or who would exploit our benevolent faith to achieve his goals,” he added.
Salman also reiterated Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy to the city.
In an apparent reference to arch-foe Iran, Salman also said Saudi Arabia was working with its allies to confront any “tendency for external interference in the internal affairs and fan the flames of sectarian sedition, and undermine regional security and stability”. He did not elaborate.
Reporting by Noah Browning and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, William Maclean