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Saudi Arabia widens crackdown, detains 298 public officials

MEE reported earlier that purge now underway by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is boldest act yet in quest for power
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be poised to become king (AFP)

Saudi Arabia on Sunday announced the detention of hundreds of government officials, including military and security officers, on charges involving bribery and exploiting public office, and said investigators would bring charges against them.

Scores of the kingdom's economic and political elite were detained in 2017 at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel in a crackdown that unsettled some foreign investors.

The royal court said last year it was winding down that campaign after 15 months, but the authorities later said they would start going after graft by ordinary government employees, Reuters reported.

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Still, Middle East Eye reported earlier this month that the widening crackdown now underway by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is his boldest act yet in his quest for power. As many as 20 princes have been arrested for allegedly being part of a coup to overthrow MBS, who is now apparently poised to become king, MEE also reported.

At least two members of the Bayaa, or Allegiance Council, which determines the succession to the Saudi throne, have been arrested as part of the purge, Middle East Eye reported earlier this month.

An anti-corruption body known as Nazaha tweeted on Sunday that it had arrested and would indict 298 people on crimes including bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101m).

Among those implicated were eight defence ministry officers suspected of bribery and money laundering in relation to government contracts during the years 2005-2015, and 29 interior ministry officials in the Eastern Province, including three colonels, a major general and a brigadier general.

Two judges were also detained for receiving bribes, along with nine officials accused of corruption at Riyadh's Al Maarefa University, which resulted in severe damage to a building and caused deaths and injuries, Nazaha said.

The agency provided no names and few other details about the cases.

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