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Saudi Arabia must reveal fate of 'corruption detainees' in MbS purge

MbS ordered the detention over 200 officials and businessmen in a purported anti-corruption drive. [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2019

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded the crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family as he consolidated his grip on power in the kingdom.

Rights groups have urged Saudi Arabia to clarify the status of detainees still being held nearly 16 months after a corruption purge launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saw hundreds arrested.

In November 2017, bin Salman ordered the detention of over 200 top Saudi officials and businessmen in a purported anti-corruption drive in the country.

But experts have said it was a way of consolidating his grip on power by securing cash from 'shake downs' and eliminating potential rivals.

Riyadh announced an end to its high-profile corruption purge in January this year, but some of those arrested remain in detention nearly 16 months later, without any clear legal basis.

Read more: Lies, murder and deceit: the daily reality of Mohammed Bin Salman's war on dissent

"Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has justified the so-called corruption arrests as 'shock therapy' for the Saudi economy, but what's truly shocking is to shake down prominent Saudis without giving them any chance to defend themselves," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Holding detainees without charge or trial for 16-months only reinforces the reality that the Saudi corruption campaign has taken place completely outside the rule of law."

Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the former governor of Riyadh and son of the late King Abdullah, Prince Turki's associate Faisal al-Jarba, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Mohammad, and a former planning minister, Adel al-Fakieh, are all being detained outside any legal process, HRW says.

Businessmen Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father are being held in al-Ha'ir prison south of Riyadh, sources told HRW.

Prince Salman, who is married to a daughter of King Abdullah, is reportedly being detained in retaliation for his advocacy on behalf of detained relatives after the November purge began.

None of his or his father's assets were frozen, nor were they forced to pay financial settlements like other detainees.

Al-Jarba was detained in Jordan, where he had fled to safety, and driven back to the Saudi border and handed over to Saudi authorities.

Prince Turki also remains in detention without charge, HRW said.

Saudi Arabia netted around $106.6 billion during the corruption purge after forcing settlements with detainees which included cash, real estate, businesses and securities.

The Royal Court said earlier this year that the anti-corruption committee had concluded its work after summoning or questioning 381 people.

It said 56 individuals continue to be investigated and that the attorney general refused to settle with them due to other criminal charges they face. Another eight refused to settle and stand accused of corruption.

In the early days of the crackdown more than 17 detainees were hospitalised for physical abuse while a Saudi military officer later died in custody.

"Mohammad bin Salman's government's record of lawlessness is clear, and this denial of basic rights in their corruption campaign should be seen in that light," HRW's Page said.

"Instead of a good faith attempt to tackle an important issue, Saudi authorities have scorned due process to which all citizens have a right."

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