Saudi Arabia has said it will confiscate cash and assets, running into $300billion held by dozens of top officials and businessmen detained in an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi attorney-general said detailed questioning of detainees had already produced “a great deal of evidence”, but gave no more details. Businessmen in detention include international investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine before the crackdown at $17 billion; Mohammad al-Amoudi at $10.4 billion, with construction, agriculture and energy companies in Sweden, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia; and finance and healthcare magnate Saleh Kamel at $2.3 billion.
A huge amount of the targeted funds are believed by financial sources to be held offshore in bank accounts, portfolio investments, corporate shareholdings and real estate. Many of the businessmen detained have private planes — one has a Boeing 747 airliner. A study by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research estimated the Saudis have stashed away wealth equivalent to over 55 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in foreign tax havens — an amount exceeding $300 billion. But the experiences of two other Arab states trying to recover stolen money, Egypt and Tunisia, suggest Riyadh may face years of legal and diplomatic battles to secure assets held abroad. Even then success is not guaranteed.
The anti-corruption committee that detained princes, tycoons and ministers at the weekend has the power under a royal decree to take “whatever measures are deemed necessary” to seize companies, funds and other assets without waiting for the results of criminal investigations. The offshore scrutiny of assets has already begun in the Gulf region, where Saudi Arabia regularly shares information. The United Arab Emirates’ central bank and securities regulator has asked banks and finance companies there to provide information on the accounts of 19 Saudi citizens. The Saudi committee has not given details of the allegations individuals face, though Saudi officials say they include money laundering, bribery, extortion and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.
Riyadh has also set no timetable for its confiscations, although banking sources say more than 1,700 domestic bank accounts have already been frozen at the request of the central bank. If the committee were to try to retrieve all the revenue that has been lost to corruption, from bribes to illegal expropriation of land, the total would be $800 billion, an official at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry has estimated.