In purge crackdown, Saudi Arabia makes fresh arrests, freezes royals’ accounts

November 9, 2017

Saudi Arabian authorities have carried out further arrests and frozen more bank accounts under an expanding anti-corruption crackdown that was announced last Saturday against the Kingdom’s political and business elite, Reuters reported, quoting official sources.

Since the campaign kickoff, dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have already been held in the purge. They face allegations of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.

According to the sources, the anti-corruption authorities have also frozen the bank accounts of Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, one of the most senior members of the ruling Al Saud, and some of his immediate family members.

Nayef, known as MbN, was ousted as Crown Prince in June when King Salman replaced him with the then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Those who were held most recently include individuals with links to the immediate family of the late Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz who died in 2011, the sources noted.

“Others appear to be lower-level managers and officials,” the sources told Reuters.

Since Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, according to an official banker, who preferred anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is over 1,700 and rising, up from 1,200, the banker added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171109-in-purge-crackdown-saudi-arabia-makes-fresh-arrests-freezes-royals-accounts/.

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France’s Macron, Arab leaders to inaugurate Louvre Abu Dhabi

November 08, 2017

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron will be joining Arab leaders to inaugurate the new Louvre Abu Dhabi in the capital of the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday evening.

The museum marks a major cultural achievement for the UAE after a decade-long wait and questions about conditions that laborers on the project had faced. The artwork on display offers a brief history of the world and its major religions — without shying away from Judaism in a country that officially does not recognize Israel.

Museum officials say it also serves as a cultural bridge between the East and West. However, the conservative mores of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital that’s more buttoned-up than freewheeling Dubai, can be seen in the relative absence of pieces depicting nudity.

“Here at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we’ve accomplished history,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, said at a ceremony for journalists on Monday. “This museum is a lot more than just a museum.”

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the modernist museum sits under a honeycombed dome of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes. It draws the lapping waters of the Persian Gulf into its outer corridors, allowing individual beams of light that pass through the roof to strike the surface and cast dancing reflections across the white walls. At night, light inside pours out like tiny little stars from a salt shaker against the city’s skyline.

“I imagine this metaphor of the sky, cosmic, cosmographic, with a random system like the stars itself,” Nouvel told The Associated Press. “I imagine that with not a lot of lighting, just a little bit to create a kind of rain of light.”

That rain has been a long time coming in this desert country, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Authorities first announced the project in 2007 as Dubai feverishly built the world tallest building and other wonders.

Today, much of Saadiyat Island, envisioned as a cultural district anchored by the museum, is still empty. A planned Middle East outpost of the Guggenheim remains unbuilt, with just a poured foundation on the salt flood plain.

Part of the reason is the drop in global energy prices from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $30 in early 2016. Abu Dhabi officials have not disclosed how much it cost to build the museum. What is known is that Abu Dhabi agreed to pay France $525 million for the use of the “Louvre” name for the next 30 years and six months, plus another $750 million to hire French managers to oversee the 300 loaned works of art. A center at Paris’ Louvre now bears the name of the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, which was also part of the deal.

During construction, the project faced intense criticism over laborer conditions amid low pay, long hours and the brutal UAE heat. A worker was killed in an accident in 2015 while another died of “natural causes” in 2016, according to Abu Dhabi authorities.

Hundreds working on projects on the island, including the Louvre, also were deported or lost their work visas for launching strikes over their conditions, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report. Labor strikes are illegal in the UAE.

Jean-Luc Martinez, the president-director of the Louvre in Paris, contends the museum spoke “very frankly” about laborer conditions. He described the museum as a bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe.

“We are not a European museum,” he told the AP. “It’s a place to see the world from Abu Dhabi.” The museum also makes a point to put the world’s religions side by side. In one exhibit, a Jewish funerary stele from France in 1250 sits next to a Tunisian Muslim’s funerary steel and a Christian archbishop’s stone epitaph from Tyre, Lebanon. A painted French stone statue of Virgin and Child stands by a section of a Syrian Quran dating to around 1250, open to a page recounting the night during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims believe the holy book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

In a darkened room, a page from the Blue Quran, one of the oldest ever found, sits near a Gothic Bible, Buddhist sutras and a Torah from Yemen dating to 1498. In a Middle East still torn by religious and sectarian conflict, whether between Sunni and Shiite or Israelis and the Palestinians, simply putting them side by side is a major statement.

For now at least, the museum’s exhibit ends with an installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei called “Fountain of Light,” an illuminated work of steel and glass that recalls the museum’s gleam at night.

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Kuwait emir reappoints PM

2017-11-01

DUBAI – Kuwait’s emir reappointed his prime minister on Wednesday and asked him to form a cabinet, the official state news agency said on Wednesday, after the government stepped down earlier this week in an expected cabinet reshuffle.

The major oil producer has the oldest legislature among the Gulf Arab states and experiences frequent cabinet resignations amid tensions between the government and lawmakers.

Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Sabah had tendered his resignation on Monday.

Pan-Arab television channel Al Arabiya had earlier reported the news.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85708.

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Prominent billionaire among dozens arrested in Saudi purge

2017-11-05

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of senior figures including princes, ministers and a top business tycoon, in what authorities hailed Sunday as a “decisive” anti-corruption sweep as the kingdom’s crown prince consolidates power.

Prominent billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal was among the 11 princes arrested late Saturday, reports said, immediately after a new anti-corruption commission headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was established by royal decree.

Separately, the head of the Saudi National Guard, once a leading contender to the throne, as well as the navy chief and the economy minister were replaced in a series of high-profile sackings that sent shock waves through the kingdom.

The dramatic purge comes at a time of unprecedented social and economic transformation in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, as Prince Mohammed steps up his reform drive for a post-oil era.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported that the princes, four current ministers and dozens of ex-ministers were arrested as the commission launched a probe into old cases such as floods that devastated the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2009.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the commission’s goal was to “preserve public money, punish corrupt people and those who exploit their positions”.

Shares in Kingdom Holding, 95 percent of which is owned by Prince Al-Waleed, dived 9.9 percent as the Saudi stock exchange opened Sunday after reports of his arrest.

The prince’s office was not reachable for comment.

“With this (crackdown), the kingdom heralds a new era and policy of transparency, clarity and accountability,” Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan was quoted as saying by SPA.

“The decisive decisions will preserve the investment environment and boost trust in the rule of law.”

The kingdom’s top council of clerics also lauded the anti-corruption efforts as “important”, essentially giving religious backing to the crackdown.

An aviation source said that security forces had grounded private jets at airports, possibly to prevent high-profile figures from leaving the country.

– ‘Shock waves’ –

“The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

“The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community,” Ulrichsen said.

The purge comes less than two weeks after Prince Mohammed welcomed thousands of global business leaders to Riyadh for an investment summit, showcasing his reform drive that has shaken up the kingdom.

It follows a wave of arrests of influential clerics and activists in September as the 32-year-old prince, often known as MBS, cements his grip on power.

Analysts said many of those detained were resistant to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Gulf neighbor Qatar as well as some of his bold policy reforms, including privatizing state assets and cutting subsidies.

The latest purge saw Prince Miteb bin Abdullah sacked as the head of the National Guard, an elite internal security force. His removal consolidates the crown prince’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions.

To analysts, Prince Mohammed’s meteoric rise has seemed almost Shakespearean in its aggression and calculation. In June, he edged out a 58-year-old cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, to become heir to the throne.

At the time, Saudi television channels showed the bearded Prince Mohammed kissing the hand of the older prince and kneeling before him in a show of reverence. Western media reports later said that the deposed prince had been placed under house arrest, a claim strongly denied by Saudi authorities.

Already viewed as the de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government, from defense to the economy, the prince is widely seen to be stamping out traces of internal dissent before a formal transfer of power from his 81-year-old father King Salman.

At the same time, he has projected himself as a liberal reformer in the ultra-conservative kingdom with a series of bold moves including the decision allowing women to drive from next June.

Foreign diplomats predict that Prince Mohammed, set to be the first millennial to occupy the Saudi throne, could well be in control of Saudi Arabia for at least half a century.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85769.

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Saudi Arabia sets up new authority for cyber security

2017-11-01

KHOBAR – Saudi Arabia has set up a new authority for cyber security and named its minister of state Musaed al-Aiban its chairman, strengthening security in the world’s largest oil exporter, a royal decree said.

The National Authority for Cyber Security will be made up of the head of state security, the head of intelligence, the deputy interior minister and assistant to the minister of defense, SPA said late on Tuesday.

The authority will be linked to the King and is created to “boost cyber security of the state, protect its vital interests, national security and sensitive infrastructure,” it said.

It will also improve protection of networks, information technology systems and data.

Saudi Arabia has been target of frequent cyber attacks.

Earlier this year, it put out an alert about the Shamoon virus, which cripples computers by wiping their disks after the labor ministry had been attacked and a chemicals firm reported a network disruption.

The worst cyber attack to date was when Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company was hit by the Shamoon virus in 2012.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85703.

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Bahraini jailed for ‘insulting king’ deported

2017-11-03

MANAMA – A Bahraini citizen convicted of “insulting the king” and stripped of his nationality has been deported to Iraq after serving a two-year jail sentence, Amnesty International said on Friday.

Ibrahim Karimi was released from the notorious Jaw prison on Monday and “deported to Iraq the next day”, Amnesty said in a report.

He had served a sentence of two years and one month for allegedly “insulting the king” of Bahrain as well as Saudi Arabia and its ruler, and for possession of a stun gun.

Karimi was sentenced in 2016 but his citizenship had been revoked by the Bahraini authorities more than three years earlier.

Amnesty said Karimi had been found guilty of “publicly inciting hatred and contempt against the regime” and of “publicly insulting the king”.

He was also convicted of “insulting Saudi Arabia and its king” in a tweet, following the deadly 2015 collapse of a massive construction crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca that killed more than 100 people.

Karimi has denied ownership of the twitter account.

Amnesty has described Karimi as a “prisoner of conscience”.

Authorities in Manama have stepped up prosecution of dissidents in recent months, granting military courts the right to try civilians for charges including terrorism as protests demanding an elected government in the Sunni-ruled monarchy near their seventh year.

Dozens of mostly Shiite protesters have been jailed and number of high-profile activists and clerics stripped of their citizenship since protests erupted in 2011.

Bahrain, a key ally of the United States and home to the US Fifth Fleet, accuses Shiite Iran of training “terrorist cells” that aim to overthrow the Bahraini government.

Iran denies the allegation.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85757.

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France and Qatar get to final of UNESCO chief vote

October 13, 2017

PARIS (AP) — The election of UNESCO’s new chief has been narrowed down to two candidates, one from Qatar and the other from France. The winner to be selected on Friday will succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova, whose 8-year term leading the U.N. cultural agency was marred by financial woes and criticism over Palestine’s inclusion as a member.

The final vote comes the day after the U.S. and Israel said they plan to pull out of the Paris-based organization over perceived anti-Israel bias. Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari and France’s Audrey Azoulay are vying to get the needed 30 votes from UNESCO’s executive board.

Arab countries have long wanted to lead the organization, but the Palestine issue has complicated the election. UNESCO’s general assembly will have to sign off on the board’s pick.

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