Saudi Arabia has sacked two senior royals as part of an investigation into alleged corruption within the defence ministry, broadening Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on the ruling family.
A royal decree issued late on Monday by King Salman removed Prince Fahd bin Turki al-Saud, commander of the Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and his son Prince Abdulaziz, deputy governor of the Al Jawf region, from their positions.
The two princes and several military officials were referred for further investigation as part of the probe into corruption at the defence ministry. The arrests were carried out under the auspices of Prince Mohammed, who since becoming heir apparent in 2017 has launched a purge of potential rivals by accusing them of corruption.
The decree said the decision was made based on a recommendation from the crown prince following “suspicious financial dealings monitored at the Ministry of Defence” linked to Prince Fahd and his son as well as other senior civilian and military officials.
Saudi daily newspaper Okaz on Tuesday described the sackings as part of the “war on corruption”.
“Riyadh has sent a strong message in that accountability bodies will not tolerate those who are corrupt regardless of any considerations. And that Saudi Arabia’s fierce war against corruption is not a luxury, but rather a necessity for development and protecting public money,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
In 2017, Prince Mohammed detained hundreds of princes, officials and businessmen in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, extracting financial settlements for the return of allegedly ill-gotten gains from many of the detainees.
The purge, which reportedly netted more than $100bn for the state, was criticised by some as a personal power grab carried out under the pretence of cleaning up decades of ingrained graft within the government and ruling family. Several have remained detained without charge.
Many Saudis have, however, welcomed the prince’s crackdown.
“Irrespective of any other factors involved, the powerful signals that have been sent over the past few years against corruption cannot but have a huge deterrent impact on such behaviour,” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi author and analyst.
Since the Ritz episode, the government has rounded up others accused of using their official positions for personal benefit.
In March, the anti-corruption watchdog said it had detained almost 300 officials, including retired military officers and judges, for alleged crimes such as bribery and wasting public money. The sums involved amounted to more than $100bn.
Prince Fahd, who took command of the Saudi operation in Yemen in 2018, had become the country’s most senior soldier a year earlier after joining the military in the 1980s. The decree named Lieutenant Gen Mutlaq bin Salem al-Azima as the replacement for Prince Fahd.
Saudi Arabia intervened in the Yemen civil war in 2015, seeking to restore the internationally recognised government that had been ousted by Houthi rebels allied to Riyadh’s arch nemesis Iran. The campaign quickly turned into a stalemate, turning the Arab world’s poorest state into the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet. Riyadh’s closest ally, Abu Dhabi, has withdrawn UAE forces from combat.
The paltry political dividends from Yemen have revived questions about Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities despite one of the world’s largest defence budgets.
Prince Mohammed has been defence minister since King Salman ascended to the throne in 2015.