2017–19 Saudi Arabian purge

A number of prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and business people were arrested in Saudi Arabia on 4 November 2017[3] and the following few weeks after the creation of an anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MbS).

2017–19 Saudi Arabian purge
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, chairman of the Saudi Anti-Corruption Committee which ordered the arrests
LocationSaudi Arabia
TypeGovernmental purge
Motivecrackdown on corruption [1]

There are three alternate hypotheses regarding the motives behind the purge: a genuine corruption crackdown, a project to gain money, or preparing to take over the crown.[4]

The detainees were confined at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh (which hosted the announcement for the planned city of Neom on 24 October 2017),[3][5] which subsequently stopped accepting new bookings and told guests to leave.[6] Private jets were also grounded to prevent suspects from fleeing the country.[6]

The arrests resulted in the final sidelining of the faction of the late King Abdullah and MbS's complete consolidation of control of all three branches of the security forces,[6] making him the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia since his grandfather, the first King, Ibn Saud.[5]

As many as 500 people were rounded up in the sweep.[7] Saudi Arabian banks froze more than 2,000 domestic accounts as part of the crackdown.[8] According to the Wall Street Journal, the Saudi government targeted cash and assets worth up to $800 billion.[9] The Saudi authorities claimed that amount was composed of assets worth around $300 billion to $400 billion that they can prove was linked to corruption.[10][11]

Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Motjeb said in a statement that the arrests were "merely the start of a vital process to root out corruption wherever it exists." He added that those detained would have access to legal counsel and pledges to hold trials "in a timely and open manner."[12] Meanwhile, King Salman appointed 26 new judges.[13]

MbS stated that "We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement...About 1 percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court."[14] When asked about reports of cash and assets totaling $800 billion that belong to the people accused of corruption, the official said, "Even if we get 100 billion back, that would be good."[15]

The anti-corruption committee has ended its missions on 30 January 2019, concluding that 381 individuals were ordered, some of them to hear their testimony, and $107 billion were recovered to the state treasury as a result.[16][2] Many commentators claimed that the move appeared to end the structure of consensus-based governance in Saudi Arabia and may create strain within the Saudi royal family.[17]


The allegations include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials, and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.[18]

Tiger Squad

According to the Middle East Eye, an assassination campaign against critics of the monarchy was carried out in parallel to the overt arrests of the purge, by the Tiger Squad, which was formed in 2017 and as of October 2018, consisted of 50 secret service and military personnel. The group members were recruited from different branches of the Saudi forces, directing several areas of expertise. The would-be aim and actions of the group were to silently murder critics of the Saudi government by the skilled intelligence officials, highly trusted by Mohammad bin Salman, that composed the Tiger Squad. The Tiger Squad allegedly assassinates dissidents using varying methods, such as planned car and aircraft accidents, house fires, and poisoning at hospitals under the pretenses of regular health checkups. The five-member squad were also the part of the 15-member death squad who assassinated Jamal Khashoggi. According to the sources, bin Salman chose silent murder instead of arrest as the method of repression due to the fact that only arresting the dissidents sparks international pressures for releasing them, whereas silent murder covers it up quietly. Prince Mansour bin Muqrin died under mysterious circumstances, allegedly assassinated when his personal aircraft was shot down as he fled the country - made to appear as merely an accident. Meshal Saad al-Bostani, a member of the Tiger Squad and a lieutenant in the Saudi airforce was allegedly behind the murder, but he himself was also later murdered by poison, but reported to have died as a result of a car accident. Another victim was Suliman Abdul Rahman al-Thuniyan, a Saudi court judge who was murdered by injection of a deadly virus when he visited a hospital for a regular health checkup. This took place after he had opposed bin Salman's 2030 Economic Vision.[19]


King Salman stated that the anti-corruption committee need to "identify offences, crimes and persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption". He also referred to the "exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to illicitly accrue money".[20][18]


On 24 October 2017 bin Salman who ordered the arrests, told investors in Riyadh that "We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world". He also pledged to counter "extremism very soon".[21]

List of involved people

Those arrested, detained, sanctioned or removed from their posts include, but are not limited to:



Uncertain status

  • Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, youngest son of King Fahd. There were rumors that Abdul Aziz, age 44, was killed while resisting arrest, but the Saudi information ministry released a statement saying that the prince was "alive and well."[31]
  • Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, deputy governor of Asir and son of former Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz. He was killed in a helicopter crash, though unconfirmed allegations have been made that his helicopter was shot down while he was attempting to flee the country.[32][33]




Businessmen and professionals




Uncertain status

  • Ahmed al-Amari, Islamic scholar and Dean of the Quran College at the Islamic University of Madinah. Died in custody, however there are unconfirmed allegations he was killed.[46]


According to Sam Blatteis, Middle East Public Policy Manager for Deloitte[47] and a former Google head of public policy in the Persian Gulf, "This is the closest thing in the Middle East to glasnost"; other businessmen have compared the purge to Russian president Vladimir Putin's politically-motivated attacks on Russian oligarchs.[9] The Economist has likened the purge to the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.[5] Thomas Friedman at The New York Times called it Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring.[48]

In Saudi Arabia the purge was supported by the Council of Senior Scholars.[49][48]


The 2017 purge of the Saudi political and business elite was followed in 2018 by arrests of 17 women's rights activists, including Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Mana and Madeha al-Ajroush[50] as well as Hatoon al-Fassi, a women's rights activist and associate professor of women's history.[51] Eastern Province human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham and her husband, already in prison since December 2015, were under legal threat of beheading along with four colleagues, with a final hearing to take place on 28 October 2018 in the Specialized Criminal Court.[52][53]

Committee conclusion

On 30 January 2019, The Saudi King Salman reviewed the final report submitted by the committee chairman stating that 381 individuals were ordered and some of them as witnesses.[2] Settlements have been made with 87 individual resulting in recovering  $107 billion in the form of real estate, companies, cash, and other assets.[54] The report also stated that Saudi Arabia's Public Prosecutor rejected the settlements with 56 individual due to already existing criminal charges against them, while 8 individuals denied the settlements and were referred to the Public Prosecutor.[54][2][16]

See also


  1. "King forms supreme committee to tackle corruption". Saudi gazette. 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  2. "Statement by the Royal Court: Anti Corruption Committee Concludes Its Tasks The official Saudi Press Agency". www.spa.gov.sa. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  3. David Kirkpatrick (4 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia Arrests 11 Princes, Including Billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  4. Danielle Pletka (8 November 2017), "WHAT JUST HAPPENED IN SAUDI ARABIA? THE WEEKEND PURGE EXPLAINED", American Enterprise Institute, Newsweek, retrieved 10 November 2017
  5. "The world should push the crown prince to reform Saudi Arabia, not wreck it". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  6. "Saudi Arabia's unprecedented shake-up". The Economist. 5 November 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  7. Kulish, Nicholas (6 November 2017). "Ritz-Carlton Has Become a Gilded Cage for Saudi Royals". New York Times.
  8. Exclusive: Saudi prince detention holds up loan to investment firm - sources Reuters
  9. "The Saudi purge will spook global investors and unsettle oil markets". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  10. Said, Summer; Stancati, Margherita (17 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia Pursues Cash Settlements as Crackdown Expands". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on 17 November 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  11. Golovkin, Pavel (17 November 2017). "Saudi Crackdown Escalates With Arrests of Top Military Officials". MSN. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  12. "Saudi Arrests, Missiles and Proxy Conflict, All in Just Five Days". 8 November 2017 via www.bloomberg.com.
  13. "Saudi anti-corruption purge: All the latest updates". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  14. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/23/opinion/saudi-prince-mbs-arab-spring.html
  15. http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-corruption-crackdown-billions-of-dollars-2017-11
  16. "Saudi Arabia closes 15-month anti-corruption campaign: SPA". Reuters. 30 January 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  17. Blanchard, Christopher M. Saudi Arabia : Background and U.S. Relations. ISBN 978-1547016167. OCLC 1056627472.
  18. "Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman widens purge". Al Jazeera. 6 November 2017. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  19. Abu Sneineh, Mustafa (22 October 2018). "REVEALED: The Saudi death squad MBS uses to silence dissent". Middle East Eye. Archived from the original on 22 October 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
  20. "Saudi Arabia princes detained, ministers dismissed". Al Jazeera. 5 November 2017. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  21. Dorell, Oren (5 November 2017). "Saudi prince behind sweep of arrests is known as young and brash, but has Trump's ear". USA Today. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  22. Michelle Mark and the Associated Press (4 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia arrests 11 princes, including billionaire investor Prince al-Waleed bin Talal". Business Insider. Retrieved 5 November 2017. Eleven princes and dozens of former ministers were detained ... The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts.
  23. AFP (27 January 2018). "Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed freed after 'settlement'". Agence France-Presse. Retrieved 27 January 2018. The prince was released following an undisclosed financial agreement with the government, similar to deals that authorities struck with most other detainees in exchange for their freedom.
  24. "Saudis arrest 11 princes, dozens of ex-ministers in shake-up". ynetnews. 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  25. "U.S. officials: Saudi crown prince has hidden his mother from his father, the king". NBC News. 15 March 2018.
  26. "Bin Salman re-arrests Prince Khaled Bin Talal days after his father's death". Middle East Monitor. 28 December 2018.
  27. "Senior Saudi figures tortured and beaten in purge". Middle East Eye. 9 November 2017.
  28. Donna Abu-Nasr; Glen Carey; Vivian Nereim (4 November 2017). "Saudi Purge Sees Senior Princes, Top Billionaire Detained". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  29. Patrick Wintour (5 November 2017). "Saudi arrests show crown prince is a risk-taker with a zeal for reform". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  30. Becky Anderson and Sarah El Sirgany (4 November 2017). "Saudi anti-corruption sweep leads to high-profile arrests". cnn. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  31. Akkad, Dania (8 November 2017). "Mystery surrounds fate of late King Fahd's son amid Saudi crackdown". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 10 November 2017.
  32. "Saudi Purge: Reports claim Prince Muqrin helicopter did not crash, was shot down". India Today. 9 November 2017.
  33. "The Saudi death squad MBS uses to silence dissent". Middle East Eye. 22 October 2018. Archived from the original on 22 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  34. Igor Bosilkovski (4 November 2017). "Saudi Billionaire Prince Alwaleed Reportedly One Of At Least A Dozen Arrested For Corruption". Forbes. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  35. "Factbox: Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers in anti-corruption probe". reuters. 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  36. Durden, Tyler (7 January 2013). "Saudi 'Corruption' Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested". Zero Hedge. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  37. "Saudi princes among dozens detained in 'corruption' purge". BBC. 5 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  38. Factbox: Saudi Arabia detains princes, ministers in anti-corruption probe, 5 November 2017, Reuters
  39. "Al Tayyar says operating normally after founder's arrest". Argaam. 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  40. Daily Sabah with Agencies, Istanbul (5 November 2017). "Alwaleed bin Talal, two other billionaires tycoons among Saudi arrests". Daily Sabah. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  41. "Saudi Arabia Is Said to Have Tortured an American Citizen". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  42. "Saudi University Dismissing Muslim Brotherhood-Linked Academics". Center for Security Policy. 28 September 2017.
  43. "IUMS urges Saudi Arabia to free Muslim scholars". Al-Jazeera. 13 September 2017.
  44. "Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty for cleric Ali al-Omari". Middle East Eye. 5 September 2018.
  45. "Saudi Arabia arrests prominent cleric Safar al-Hawali: activists". Reuters. 12 July 2018.
  46. "Prominent Saudi scholar Ahmed al-Amari dies in prison: Activists". Al Jazeera. 21 January 2019.
  47. Middle East Institute (n.d.). "Sam Blatteis". Middle East Institute website. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  48. Thomas L. Friedman (23 November 2017). "Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring, at Last". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  49. "Muhammad bin Salman has swept aside those who challenge his power". The Economist. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  50. McKernan, Bethan (23 May 2018). "Saudi police arrest three more women's rights activists". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  51. "Saudis arrest another women's right activist". Al Jazeera English. 27 June 2018. Archived from the original on 27 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  52. Brennan, David (21 August 2018). "Who Is Israa al-Ghomgham? Female Saudi Activist May Be Beheaded After Death Sentence". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 24 August 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  53. "Saudi Prosecution Seeks Death Penalty for Female Activist". Human Rights Watch. 21 August 2018. Archived from the original on 22 August 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  54. "Saudi king presented with final corruption crackdown report, $107 bln recovered". english.alarabiya.net. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
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