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Saudi Arabia’s Corruption Crackdown Could Be Hugely Profitable for the Kingdom

November 8, 2017, 10:44 AM UTC

The Saudi administration’s crackdown on alleged corruption is about to include a massive asset seizure, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed sources as saying the government was planning to seize up to $800 billion in cash and assets, on the basis that they were amassed through corruption.

The kingdom’s reform-minded young crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud, has in recent days moved to consolidate his power by taking on a variety of potential threats. Having already cracked down on critics, including those in the clergy and media, in September, the government last weekend arrested some of Saudia Arabia’s richest men, including the prominent investor Alwaleed bin Talal.

Prince Mohammed’s power play comes with the endorsement of U.S. president Donald Trump, which many have theorized is tied to the potential flotation of Saudi oil giant Aramco on the New York Stock Exchange—an uncertain outcome, given the transparency requirements that would accompany it.

Apart from helping the crown prince secure the throne, the crackdown could also bring a much-needed financial boost to the state coffers, which have been hit by low oil prices.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority said Tuesday that it had frozen some people’s bank accounts, while their corruption charges run their course. The WSJ reported that the government may be able to reclaim as much as $800 billion in assets.

However, a lot of those assets are abroad, which will make it more difficult to pull them in. The government has banned many people, including royals, from leaving Saudi Arabia for the moment.

Apart from Prince Alwaleed, an investor in the likes of Apple (AAPL) and Twitter (TWTR), the crackdown also nabbed Bakr bin Ladin, the chairman of the Saudi Binladin construction group (and the half-brother of Osama bin Laden). According to the WSJ, he faces bribery charges connected with his firm’s contract for expanding the grounds of the Great Mosque in Mecca.