Billionaires in Saudi Arabia are falling over themselves to get their ridiculous number of assets out of the kingdom before officials seize $800 billion from the country’s elite.
Some of the country’s richest families are in talks with their banks and other companies to try and make sure their mammoth fortunes aren’t taken by the government, in a move against corruption.
Officials from the country claim 208 people have been called in for questioning for embezzlement and corruption, with the investigation spanning a time frame of a few decades.
Thousands of bank accounts have been frozen, with the risk of funds being completely seized as retribution for illegal activities in the country.
Among those targeted include princes, military officials and government members as well as a number of businessmen.
However, there are some vocal critics of the move, who are saying the efforts are a thinly veiled attempt at a power grab by the crown prince to diminish risk from rivals.
The Saudi government has so far not released any names of those who’ve been detained for questioning, nor have they released official figures of the money frozen.
The move has resulted in the mass exodus of money from some of the accounts, into other countries as cash or other assets.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the government’s sweep of the money catches a total of $800 billion in its net.
Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal – one of the world’s richest men and the owner of the Savoy Hotel in London – has been detained.
Howevere the sweep will not affect the businesses owned by the suspects, according to the Saudi government.
Central bank chief, Ahmed Abdulkarim Alkholifey, said:
It’s worth clarifying that concerned individual accounts rather than their corporate businesses have been put in suspension until final court rulings.
In other words, corporate businesses remain unaffected.
It’s business as usual for both banks and businesses.
Analysts have claimed the move is an attempt to try and centralise power away from those who might pose a risk to Prince Mohammed bin Salaman, who is Minister of Defense of the Kingdom.
Included in the bold move is the firing of a number of powerful royal members – such as the national guard chief.
James Dorsey, from Singaport’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told the Daily Mail:
The dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed, rather than forging alliances, is extending his iron grip to… counter opposition.
It raises questions about the reform process that increasingly is based on a unilateral rather than a consensual rewriting of the kingdom’s social contract.
Some experts also claim the risk of short-term uncertainty will have a negative effect on the country’s economy and might cause even more money to be siphoned away from Saudi Arabia in the long-term.
However, supporters of the move have claimed it proves Prince Mohammed bin Salaman is a social disrupter, who’s trying to get rid of the established nepotistic social order from the top down.
Only time will tell what this means in the long-term for the nation, but in the meantime, hundreds of high profile members of the establishment remain in custody.