Saudi Saturday Night Massacre: Billionaire Bin Talal, dozens of others Arrested

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

King Salman of Saudi Arabia created a high-powered “anti-corruption” commission on Saturday, appointing his son, the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, to head it. The committee is a sort of star chamber, with wide powers to freeze bank accounts, ground private jets, and order suspects jailed.

Almost immediately after the announcement, ten princes, four sitting cabinet members, and several former cabinet secretaries were abruptly charged with corruption and taken into custody. The princes are being held at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, since ‘there is no jail for princes.’

One of those arrested is al-Waleed Bin Talal, the billionaire owner of Kingdom Holdings, who is a major shareholder in Twitter, CitiBank, Four Seasons, and Lyft, among other things (and until recently a shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.)

While no doubt there is corruption in Saudi Arabia, this move is more likely a power grab by the crown prince.

Indeed, it looks very much like Vladimir Putin’s destruction of those Russian oligarchs who got in his way. In essence, the crown prince is cutting the Saudi oligarchs down to size.

Mohammad Bin Salman has many advantages over Putin. The crown prince already controls media inside the kingdom, as well as the appointment of governorships (though some of those arrested had media outlets, such as al-Waleed’s Rotana). Putin had to strive hard to obtain leverage over those institutions.

When the smoke clears, look for Mohammad Bin Salman and his circle to have consolidated power dramatically.


Related video:

Aljazeera English: “Cabinet reshuffle, crackdown on corruption in latest Saudi purge”

16 Responses

  1. This isn’t really corruption in the sense that most people think of it. Seeing as Saudi Arabia is totally corrupt from top to bottom this is more like a mafia boss taking care of some of his subordinates who have been siphoning off some of the racketeering cash for themselves.

  2. If you want to achieve what Putin and the Crown Prince want it’s quite the best way. It was the advice Thrasybulus sent Periander seven centuries BCE and his been dutifully and regularly followed ever since, and it wasn’t new then. Classic ploy.

    • Removing Tall-Poppies is more a mark of insecurity, in contrast with what someone like Lincoln decided to engage with his Team of Rivals. That’s not to say these particular poppies weren’t anything but looters. Nor is it as though KbS has demonstrated any of the personal strength and legitimacy of vision to do more than his Kingdom ever has, internally or regionally.

      It always becomes a relative thing, given the character and wherewithal of the various internal actors and regional players. For all its problems and internal contradictions (as they say), I see Iran having more of the resources really needed to prevail over the long term. As far as underlying moral and intellectual and political integrity go, it isn’t as though Israel, nor its lackey the US, are showing us very much of that stuff. In fact, the moves of these three lame pretenders have at every step only served to make Iran’s position stronger, in terms of developing their own resources and consolidation of its people’s will. And that was before Trump.

      There is a lot of truth in all that stuff about nemesis and things working out in the end for those most in-tune with what is appropriate behavior. Again, not to say Iran is any paragon of virtue, but you know what they say about who becomes King in the land of the blind….

    • More focus emerging on this move, which at the moment has nabbed nearly 50 people. Short of an Erdogan scale purge. But then, maybe MbS really is just ripping out corruption, without the need to patiently work his way through the swamp like Mueller.

  3. We need a new word for the fascist, organized-crime, totalitarian, ethno-religio identitarian, and kleptocratic governments and parties.

  4. Democracy, in action.

    Oh, um, never mind.

    Rest assured, our freedom-loving POTUS is gonna be behind them 1000%.

    If the leadership in Iran – where they actually do conduct periodic elections – had pulled off this sort of stunt, Huckabee-Sanders would be out in front of the cameras the next day moralizing and lecturing until our eyes rolled in the backs of our heads.

  5. For a sense of the degree of corruption that has prevailed in Saudi Arabia, consider that an “investigation by the [UK’s] SFO [Serious Fraud Office] into alleged payments of as much as £1bn made by [arms manufacturer] BAE to Prince Bandar bin Sultan…was dropped in 2006 after the intervention of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The Government claimed that investigating the £43bn Yamamah deal would threaten the UK’s national security.” (A source of anger for violent Saudi fundamentalists–which bin Laden and other extremists have tapped–is the gross corruption of Saudi rulers.) link to

  6. Is he the one who bought a large piece land in Tanzania few years ago and the government was to throughout tens of thousands of people who lived on that land so the “prince” could use it as his exclusive hunting ground?

  7. Danielle Radicanin

    This is long overdue! Although, I would not have installed a fox to watch over the chickens. Neither the King nor his son are blame free either. The entire Saudi kingdom is fraught with corruption and abuses of human rights.

  8. November 4th, the day in history Iranian students seized the US embassy in Tehran, present day nov 4th, MBS moves on rivals inside the KSA also the day we hear the shocking news of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while visiting Saudi Arabia.
    Benjamin Netanyahu marks news of the resignation by calling for the international community to take action on Iran.
    Hariri’s resignation,seems to me, is an appalling betrayal of the Lebanese people, setting the stage for two actors, Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu who by past actions, have no qualms about destroying whole nations, to run amuck, with the blessing of Donald Trump.

  9. what role if any does this coup (if I may use that word) have in the conflict between the pro- and anti-Osama bin Laden factions?

  10. The end of rule by consent? SA had always been ruled by the
    counsel and consent of the elders of the royal family. Now that
    one young prince has grabbed full power perhaps the knives
    will come out among those sidelined.

    SA has always presented itself as a bastion of stability in
    the Middle east. This action may well unleash forces
    that had previously been held in check. Will the Wahabists
    see this as an opportunity and make a move? Will Iran
    see weakness and therefore opportunity. Will the other
    rich princes feel that they may be next and therefore they
    need to act?

  11. MBS has made mess of things. He’s bitten off far more than he can chew. there’s going to be carnage and upheavil like Saudi has ever experienced. I lived there for 12 years and all the water boilers seething for decades are simplify going to explode and carnage will be the result.The outcome will be catastrophic.

  12. this may not end as well as the crown prince hopes it will. The men he arrested for corruption are people he has been doing business with for a very long time and they too have supporters.

    Given Kuschner’s visits there recently, I’d suspect he was agreeing to what was going to be happening. Can’t wait to see more Trump towers being built there.

    S.A. has been corrupt for as long as I can remember. the royal family owns most of S.A. and now the suspected heir apparent is ensuring no one opposes him. Sort of like that round up we saw in Turkey, with out the staged coup.

    I’m sure the Trump and friends will be looking forward to making a bundle on the shares when S.A. lists their oil company on the N.Y. stock exchange.

    Just can’t figure out why some think S.A. is just fine and Iran isn’t. from what I’ve seen, at least Iran holds elections and there is way more personal freedom than in S.A. Actually next to S.A., Iran looks positively progressive.

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