Saudi former minister returns to work as anti-corruption investigation winds down

Many high-profile detainees, including former Minister of Economy and Planning Adel Fakeih and Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, are still being held in Riyadh.

Innocent of all charges. A 2016 file picture shows former Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf speaking to the media in Riyadh. (Reuters)

2018/01/07 Issue: 138 Page: 4

London - Saudi authorities’ anti-cor­ruption drive appears to be closing as individuals, including a former govern­ment minister and mem­bers of the royal family, detained in the sweep have appeared in public.

Former Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, who had been detained during the anti-corrup­tion investigation, attended the kingdom’s cabinet meeting Janu­ary 2 in his capacity as minister of state and adviser to the king.

Assaf, who is also on the Saudi Aramco board, was detained be­cause of embezzlement allegations related to the expansion of Mec­ca’s Grand Mosque, unidentified sources told the Wall Street Jour­nal. Since Assaf’s release, Saudi media outlets reported that, after questioning, the former finance minister was determined to be not guilty.

Before the cabinet meeting, Saudi online news site Sabaq re­ported that Assaf would return to work after investigators reviewed complaints against him and found him innocent of all charges. An ed­itorial in Saudi daily Okaz stated: “The cabinet session is proof that the pockets of the minister with a white moustache have also proved to be white as well.”

Also seen in public was the for­mer commander of the Saudi Na­tional Guard and son of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Prince Mutaib bin Abdul­lah bin Abdulaziz, who attended a horse racing event with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man bin Abdulaziz.

Numerous media outlets pub­lished pictures of the two princes. However, no details were reported regarding Prince Mutaib’s involve­ment in the investigation or his re­lease.

Saudi authorities last November began a kingdom-wide anti-cor­ruption campaign, holding both average citizens and royalty ac­countable. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal decree forming an anti-corruption task force with the jurisdiction to “investigate, issue arrest war­rants, travel bans and freeze ac­counts and portfolios,” a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.

More than 200 individuals, in­cluding members of the royal fam­ily, former ministers and high-pro­file businessmen, were arrested in the culmination of a 3-year inves­tigation.

Saudi authorities leading the in­vestigation negotiated settlements with some detainees and said that those held on corruption charges would be required to return misap­propriated funds. Some suspects would have to turn over as much as 70% of their wealth, the Financial Times reported.

Most of those arrested agreed to settle to avoid further prosecu­tion. The settlements totalled an estimated $50 billion-$100 billion, which was to be channelled into economic development projects.

“The committee has followed internationally applied procedures by negotiating with the detainees and offering them a settlement that will facilitate recouping the state’s funds and assets and elimi­nate the need for a prolonged liti­gation,” the public prosecutor said in a statement.

Many high-profile detainees, in­cluding former Minister of Econo­my and Planning Adel Fakeih and Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, are still being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

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