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Saudi Arabia says it raised $106 billion from 'anti-corruption' drive that swept up royals

Key Points
  • Saudi Arabia wraps up a long-running corruption probe that captured that swept up dozens of prominent princes and businessmen in 2017.
  • The Saudi Royal Court on Wednesday said the kingdom has retrieved more than 400 billion Saudi riyals — or about $106 billion.
  • The kingdom and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came under renewed scrutiny last year after the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Mohammed bin Salman
Will Oliver | Pool | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has wrapped up a long-running corruption probe that captured the market's attention in 2017 after the kingdom detained dozens of prominent princes and businessmen.

The Saudi Royal Court on Wednesday said the kingdom has retrieved more than 400 billion Saudi riyals — or about $106 billion — in cash, real estate and other assets.

The wave of arrests in November 2017 caught the world by surprise and turned the Ritz-Carlton in the capital city of Riyadh into a gilded prison for the scores of Saudis swept up in the campaign.

The kingdom cast the detentions as part of a crackdown on entrenched corruption, while some observers said the detentions were orchestrated to consolidate power under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line to King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Prince Mohammed chaired the corruption committee.

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Allegations of abuse and reports that detainees were being asked to exchange their assets for freedom rattled the market at a time when Saudi Arabia was accelerating its bid to attract foreign investment. The arrests came just days after the Saudis hosted an inaugural international investment summit in Riyadh.

Among the prominent detainees were Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia's most prominent investor, and Prince Mutaib al-Saud, the former head of the country's National Guard.

Concerns about Prince Mohammed's rule following the arrests were compounded one year later when Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. After initially denying any responsibility, the kingdom admitted Saudi agents had killed Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident, inside the consulate.

The Saudis say the killing was the act of rogue operatives, but the CIA has reportedly concluded the slaying was premeditated and Prince Mohammed was likely complicit.

The Khashoggi crisis led many companies, including CNBC, to drop out of the second annual investment summit in Riyadh in November. While the killing has raised questions about foreign direct investment into Saudi Arabia, a recent Saudi bond sale attracted heavy international interest.

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The arrests in 2017 came as the kingdom sought to raise about $100 billion — the same amount netted in the crackdown — by listing shares of state energy giant Aramco. The long-delayed initial public offering has been pushed off to 2021, according to Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih. 

The funds from the IPO were meant to underwrite Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, an ambitious plan to overhaul the nation's oil-dependent economy. Prince Mohammed is overseeing the agenda, creating reputational risk for companies partnering with the young leader to bring the plan to fruition.

During the course of the corruption investigation, the committee summoned 381 individuals, though some were only brought before the panel to testify, the royal court said on Wednesday. The proceedings resulted in 87 settlements with Saudis who confessed to charges.

The Saudi public prosecutor refused to settle with 56 people who faced prior criminal charges, according to the court. Another eight individuals rejected settlements and have been referred to the prosecutor for further action.