JEDDAH: 2017 has been a remarkable year for Saudi Arabia on many levels. A major event that attracted the world’s attention and shocked the Saudi public was the crackdown on corruption in November — and in particular the arrest of ministers and some members of the royal family.
On Nov. 4, King Salman ordered key changes to the Cabinet and the formation of a supreme committee to combat corruption headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which comprises heads of the Anti-Corruption Commission (Nazaha), Public Security, the General Prosecutor and the Investigation Authority.
The anti-corruption committee, according to a royal decree, is granted extraordinary powers to identify offenses, crimes, persons and entities involved in cases of public corruption.
It has the power to investigate, issue arrest warrants and impose travel bans, order financial disclosures and the freezing of accounts and portfolios, track funds and assets, and prevent their remittance or transfer by persons or entities.
The first action taken by the committee was the arrest of a number of ministers, royal family members, and prominent businessmen accused of involvement in public corruption cases. This unprecedented action stunned citizens and attracted global attention.
US President Donald Trump expressed his “great confidence” in Saudi leaders for knowing “exactly what they are doing,” after the announcement of the anti-corruption committee.
Hafez Ghanem, vice president of the World Bank for the Middle East and North Africa, also welcomed the action of reforms in the Kingdom and said he believed anti-corruption actions are important to the future development of the country.
The number of arrested and detained individuals on charges of money laundering, bribery, extortion, and taking advantage of public office for personal gain reached 500.
Attorney General Saud Al-Mojeb, who is also a member of the anti-corruption committee, estimated that based on the investigations over the past three years, “at least $100 billion has been misused through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.”
The new anti-money laundering law was also introduced as a proactive step; the penalty for money laundering will be between three and 15 years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to SR7 million ($1.87 million).
It emphasizes that attempting to commit any of the acts considered as money laundring according to the new law, or participating in any of the acts by agreement, providing assistance, incitement, counseling, guidance, advice, conspiring, collusion or concealment are all considered money-laundering crimes.
Corruption negatively affects any state at the political, social, economic and security levels. The recent anti-corruption campaign raised a new positive perception about Saudi Arabia among Middle East fund managers, according to a monthly Reuters poll released on Nov. 30. It estimates that 46 percent of funds are now expected to raise their allocations to the Saudi stock market in the coming months.
Fighting corruption is the main factor for development, and it is an important part of the ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who promised that “No one who is involved in corruption will survive.”
King Salman, in his last meeting with the Shoura Council on Dec. 13, said that corruption undermines societies and prevents their development and growth, and Saudi Arabia is determined to confront it.
He added that the issue would be dealt with “in a fair and firm way so that our country enjoys the renaissance and development hoped for by every citizen.”
Source Credit: Arab News