Saudi to use $13.3bn corruption cash settlements to finance packages for citizens

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Cash settlements obtained from people detained in Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on corruption will help to finance a 50 billion riyal (13.3 billion dollars) package for citizens to cope with the rising cost of living, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said on Wednesday.

The package was announced by King Salman early this month, said Jadaan, speaking to Al Arabiya television at the World Economic forum in Davos.

Jadaan said the package would also be financed by money from the state budget.

The Saudi government anti-corruption campaign began November 15, 2017.

The kingdom’s attorney-general, Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, said in a statement that Saudi authorities believed that at least 100 billion dollars “had been misused though systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.”

The crackdown has swept up more than 200 people, including senior government officials, prominent businessmen and members of the ruling family.

The investigation is being led by a newly established anti-corruption agency headed by the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is pushing to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy as well as its conservative society.

The detainees, who face accusations that range from procurement fraud to money laundering and bribery, were given the option by Saudi authorities of relinquishing part of their wealth in exchange for freedom rather than going to court.

The government already freed in the past month several of those arrested after they agreed to surrender a part of their assets.

That included Prince Miteb Abdullah, the most politically influential royal detained in the campaign who was once seen as a leading contender to the throne, after he agreed to pay over $1 billion to settle corruption allegations against him.

The anti-graft campaign has largely been welcomed in Saudi Arabia, where many people are angry at what they see as rampant corruption among the wealthy.

It has helped burnish Prince Mohammed’s popular image as a champion of fairness, though some analysts and observers outside the kingdom see the crackdown as part of a centralisation of power in the hands of the young crown prince.

He became next in line to the throne this summer.

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