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Arabic press review: 'Mass corruption' probe at Saudi defence ministry

Meanwhile, French foreign minister says France is being defamed, a plane full of dollars arrives in Damascus from the UAE, and Egypt's prisoners denied visits
Saudi authorities are reportedly investigating 158 criminal cases involving 226 Saudi citizens and residents suspected of squandering hundreds of millions of dollars (AFP/file photo)

Riyadh probes 'mass corruption' at defence ministry

Saudi authorities have reportedly initiated a probe into a corruption case involving a number of officers and civil servants at the Ministry of Defence suspected of dubious financial transactions amounting to 1.2 billion Saudi riyals ($328 million).

The Saudi Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) said that a number of officers and civil servants are implicated in suspicious financial transactions, bribery, squandering of public money, and money laundering, The New Khalij website reported on Thursday. 

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An official source in Riyadh said that authorities of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) handled 158 criminal cases lately, involving 226 Saudi citizens and residents who face legal prosecution at the moment.

The NACC started investigating 48 parties, including 19 employees of the defence ministry, three government employees, 18 businessmen, and eight employees working in companies that hold contracts with the joint forces, three of which are foreign. 

France says it is victim of 'defamation'

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an exclusive interview with the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that his country embraces tolerance, and that French law stipulates state neutrality and non-discrimination between citizens on the basis of religion.

According to the paper, Le Drian stated that France is experiencing multi-faceted terrorism, represented by the activity of terror groups such as the Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda, on the one hand, and individual terrorist acts on the other.

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The French official indicated that his country has been subjected to a campaign of “slander, defamation, gossip, exploitation and hatred led by leaders of certain countries and groups, who used the influence of social media to mislead others to think that France and Europe reject Islam”. 

He added that France is not the only country to denounce hate campaigns and the manipulation of information on social media platforms, "but all our European partners have also refused for example Turkey's attitude as they know it targets them as well".  

Le Drian urged the institutions that represent Islam in France to improve their organisational structure in order to allow constructive dialogue to take place. 

As for foreign funds pumped into religious associations, the minister said that any financial support should be transferred through transparent channels "to ensure that these funds do not aim to back fundamentalist ideologies".

Arab and Muslim countries have been witnessing popular campaigns to boycott French products in protest against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in Paris and statements made by President Emmanuel Macron that many Arabs and Muslims considered offensive to Islam.

UAE 'ships US dollars to Syria'

A Syrian aircraft reportedly arrived at the Mezzeh Military Airport in the capital Damascus from the United Arab Emirates, carrying a cargo of US dollars, Al Khalij Online quoted a private source as saying on Wednesday.

The news website did not disclose the date of the plane’s arrival in Syria or the value of shipped funds. 

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The source claimed that the plane, made by the Russian company Tupolev and belonging to Syrian Airlines, was loaded with a large amount of US dollars and foreign currencies sent by Bashar al-Assad’s sister, who lives in Dubai, to support attempts to stop the continuous fall of the Syrian pound against the dollar, in coordination with the authorities in Abu Dhabi.

The source told Al-Khaleej Online that Bushra al-Assad sent the funds, received by the governor of the Central Bank of Syria, Hazem Karfoul, noting that “these funds were transferred directly from the airport to the Central Bank in Damascus under the supervision of the Republican Guard and Air Force Intelligence”. 

The Syrian government's finance ministry initiated extraordinary measures last Sunday to confront the significant decline of the Syrian pound against the US dollar, according to the website.

New restrictions on family visits in Egyptian prisons

Egypt's interior ministry has imposed additional restrictions on prison visits by introducing a new system with strict rules for the relatives of prisoners to follow, reported Al-Araby al-Jadeed (The New Arab).

In August, the ministry announced the resumption of family visits to prisoners for the first time since the initiation of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in mid-March, while imposing a new mechanism different than the one implemented during the last three months.

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The new mechanism requires pre-registration for visitors, and only one identified visitor at a time, as well as a ban on bringing in food and drink. These measures have allowed prison administrations to keep visits at bay, especially for political prisoners and those accused of joining opposition groups, according to the newspaper. 

The new policy reportedly escalated tension, anger and quarrels between prisoners and prison departments, worsening the psychological state of thousands of prisoners, especially those who have been denied visits during the last period.

Security and human rights sources said that several prisons banned visits completely starting from 21 November under the pretext of taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. As for the rest of Egypt's prisons, the number of visits, which are already limited, has been reduced by 50 percent. 

The sources added that the administration of prisons had decided to suspend visits to all political prisoners, whether in pre-trial detention or those convicted.

Lawyers have also been told to avoid direct contact with their clients before court days, according to The New Arab.

*Arabic press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye