World

Saudi anti-graft purge 'raises a few concerns'

Tillerson says US is monitoring Gulf country's probe into alleged embezzlement

DANANG, VIETNAM:  Saudi Arabia's mass purge of elites accused of graft "raises a few concerns", United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday. He added that Washington is closely monitoring the Gulf country's unprecedented probe into alleged embezzlement worth US$100 billion (S$136 billion). 

Speaking to reporters before landing in the Vietnamese city of Danang for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Mr Tillerson said Saudi Arabia's anti-corruption purge is "well intended".

"My own view is that it... raises a few concerns until we see more clearly how these particular individuals are dealt with," he said.

More than 200 people are being held for questioning - the biggest purge of the kingdom's elite in its modern history, AFP reported.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is consolidating his power, and among the dozens of high-profile figures sacked or arrested were princes, ministers and a billionaire tycoon.

Washington is a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, but there are fears the Crown Prince could be overreaching himself through the graft probe.

"How disruptive it is going to be remains to be seen," Mr Tillerson said, adding he had spoken to his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir two days ago.

'NOT REALLY ARRESTS'

"It is my understanding that they are characterising these as not really arrests at this point, but they are presenting people with evidence of what they think the wrongdoing is to see if there is a willingness to want to make things right.

"So how they choose to deal with it at this point is still a bit unclear, but I would not want to read more than what we know at this point."

The investigation has spread to the neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE), the central bank has asked commercial banks and finance companies to provide details of the accounts of 19 Saudis, commercial bankers told Reuters.

The 19 include billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah.

The UAE, particularly Dubai, is one of the main places where wealthy Saudis park their money abroad.

In addition to bank accounts, they buy luxury apartments and villas in Dubai and invest in the emirate's volatile stock market.

Some wealthy Saudis have been liquidating assets within Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf countries this week, apparently in an effort to move money out of the region and escape the crackdown, private bankers and fund managers said.

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