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Saudi Prince Alwaleed one ‘of at least a dozen arrested for corruption’

Billionaire investor Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding, is among a group of people detained and under investigation by a new anti-corruption body, a senior Saudi official told Reuters on Sunday.

According to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, Alwaleed is ranked the world’s 50th richest person with a net worth of about $19 billion.

His wealth has declined by more than $700 million so far this year, according to the index.

Saudi King Salman announced yesterday (Saturday) the creation of the new anti-corruption committee, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi’s preemptive strike on corruption is an attempt to consolidate power

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Since its formation, the anti-corruption committee has arrested “11 Saudi princes, four ministers and ‘tens’ of former ministers” in an anti-corruprion probe, The New York Times reports, according to Al Arabiya.

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A futurist in line with Vision 2030

Prince Alwaleed was the first Saudi prince to have tweeted in November 2016 that “It is High Time that Saudi Women Started Driving their Cars.”

“Preventing a woman from driving a car today is an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” he wrote.

Read: Saudi women making big strides in business, sports and politics

He said allowing women to drive cars would lead to job growth.

His views on business always attract attention.

On October 22, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said that bitcoin will “implode” one day.

“It just doesn’t make sense. This thing is not regulated, it’s not under control, it’s not under the supervision” of any central bank, Alwaleed said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I just don’t believe in this bitcoin thing. I think it’s just going to implode one day,” Alwaleed said.

Read: 100 Bitcoins can buy you a $600,000 home in the UAE today

Bitcoin has surged about 500 percent this year and hit an all-time high above $6,100 earlier in October.

Based in Riyadh, Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding, with a $12.2 bn market cap as of May 2016, is a massive conglomerate whose investments include Citigroup, Apple and Twitter.

Major changes

King Salman has announced two major changes in the Saudi Cabinet and ordered the formation of an anti-corruption committee to counter mal-practices going on in the administration.

The committee is given special powers to investigate, issue arrest warrants and travel bans, order financial disclosure and the freezing of accounts and portfolios, track funds and assets and prevent their remittance or transfer by persons and entities.

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According to the decree, “The committee has the right to take any precautionary measures it sees fit, until they are referred to the investigating authorities or judicial bodies. It may take whatever measures deemed necessary to deal with those involved in public corruption cases and take what it considers to be the right of persons, entities, funds, fixed and movable assets, at home and abroad, return funds to the state treasury and register property and assets in the name of state property.”

Transparency International said in a 2016 report that the hope for Arab countries to fight corruption has not seen any progress yet, since the Arab Spring. This explains the sharp drop of most of Arab countries on the 2016 index – 90 percent of these have scored below 50, which is a failing grade.

On the organisation’s Corruption Perception Index 2016, Saudi placed 46. The UAE placed 66.

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Under radar

The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel reported that the committee is looking into the horrendous floods that inundated various parts of the city of Jeddah in 2009. It is also probing the Saudi government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed thousands of people in the past few years.

Also, the kingdom’s top council of clerics said it has an Islamic duty to fight corruption— essentially giving religious backing to the high-level arrests.

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