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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Trump lends support to Saudi Arabia in arresting those 'milking' the country

The US president’s comments came two days after the crackdown was launched by a new committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Donald Trump feeds carp with Japan's PM Shinzo Abe before their working lunch at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Donald Trump feeds carp with Japan's PM Shinzo Abe before their working lunch at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Donald Trump on Tuesday offered his support to the Saudi leadership in its anti-corruption campaign, which has detained dozens of princes, government officials and businessmen.

The US president’s comments came two days after the crackdown was launched by a new committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Eleven princes and more than 38 government officials were initially detained, including Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the former head of the Saudi National Guard and son of the late King Abdullah, and billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal,

The central bank ordered financial institutions in the kingdom to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals facing accusations, Bloomberg reported.

“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. They know exactly what they are doing” Mr Trump tweeted from Tokyo. “Some of those they are harshly treating have been milking their country for years.”

Accusations against the detained include bribery, extortion, embezzlement and creating ghost companies.

The US president knows some of those arrested in person. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was part of an investors’ group who bought New York’s Plaza Hotel from Mr Trump, and his yacht.

But relations soured during the presidential campaign when Prince Alwaleed called on Mr Trump “to drop out of the presidential race”.

Mr Trump hit back: “Dopey Prince Alwaleed Talal wants to control our US politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected.

On Tuesday, the crackdown expanded beyond those initially detained. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority sent a list of hundreds of names to lenders, telling them to freeze any accounts linked to them, Bloomberg reported.

The financial impact of the crackdown continued to reverberate the kingdom’s stock exchange fell as much as 3.1 per cent on Monday before recovering to a loss of 0.7 per cent. Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding plummeted 10 per cent. The company’ shares have dropped 21 per cent since the arrests.

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Read more:

Senior Saudi figures accused of bribery and extortion

New Saudi committee to investigate public corruption opens 'new era of transparency'

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Prince Alwaleed, one of the world’s richest men, is also a shareholder in global firms like Citigroup and Apple.

They have been lauded by many Saudis bearing the brunt of low oil prices who have long complained that the kingdom’s elite was above the law.

Prince Mohammed said earlier this year that no minister or prince would avoid punishment if they were found to be guilty of corruption.

The Saudi attorney general said on Monday that the arrests were only “phase one” of the anti-corruption drive.

"There is no doubt that it [the detentions] soothes the anger of the regular citizen who felt that such names and senior leaders who appeared in the list were immune from legal accountability," said Saudi-based political analyst Mansour Al Ameer told Reuters.

In Riyadh, many have welcomed the crackdown.

"Corruption should have been fought a long time ago, because it's corruption that delays society's development," resident Hussein Al Dosari said.

"God willing, everything that happened ... is only the beginning of what is planned," said Faisal bin Ali, adding he wanted to see "correcting mistakes, correcting ministries and correcting any injustices against the general population."

Some of those detained were reportedly held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, while others were held at other five-star hotels in the capital.

Among the detainees are the former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah and the former finance minister Ibrahim Al Assaf.

Mr Trump’s supportive tweets came after he called King Salman on Saturday to discuss business investments, fighting ISIL and countering Iran but made no mention of the arrests.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been taking the lead in managing relations with Riyadh. Late last month, Mr Kushner made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia, his third trip this year.

During the visit, Mr Kushner, 36, and Prince Mohammed stayed up until nearly 4am on several nights, “swapping stories and planning strategy”, The Washington Post reported.

Mr Trump made his first trip as president to Saudi Arabia in May, and the two countries have improved relations and increased defence sales this year.

The Saudi king is expected to visit Washington early next year.

*With reporting from Bloomberg and Reuters