By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI and AYA BATRAWY
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s newly established anti-corruption committee overseeing the arrests of top princes and officials said Monday that evidence of widespread corruption has been uncovered among “influential officials and senior executives” and that trials will soon be held, the first tacit government acknowledgement of the seniority of those under investigation.
Skeptics of the sweep say it is punishing select figures in the country, some of whom were potential rivals or possible critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the anti-corruption committee that was formed late Saturday shortly before the arrests.
King Salman, meanwhile, conducted state business as usual, swearing in new officials to take over from a powerful prince and former minister believed to be detained in the large-scale sweep that has shocked the country and upended longstanding traditions within the ruling family.
The official Saudi Press Agency released images of the king swearing in new National Guard chief Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin and new Economy and Planning Minister Mohammad al-Tuwaijri.
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who for the past four years had led the National Guard, and Adel Fakeih, who was minister of economy since April, were both reportedly arrested as part of the purported anti-corruption probe led by the king’s son, the crown prince.
Eleven princes and 38 officials and businessmen are reportedly being held at five-star hotels across the capital, Riyadh.
Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb warned in a statement that trials will be held “in a timely and open manner” and that the probe is “merely the start of a vital process to root out corruption.”
He said the arrests were made in order to “ensure there was no flight from justice.”
“A great deal of evidence has already been gathered, and detailed questioning has taken place,” al-Mojeb said.
Member of the anti-corruption committee, Khalid al-Mehaisen, described the investigations as “a very difficult task when it involves influential officials and senior executives.” He said preliminary investigations were happening over the past three years, leading up to the arrests.
“The evidence of transgressions and financial mismanagement uncovered recently points to widespread corruption in a number of cases,” he said in a statement.
The highest-profile royal caught in the sweep is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an outspoken billionaire royal with investments in Western companies. The company he chairs sought to reassure investors after its stock plunged following his arrest.
Kingdom Holding Co. said in a statement Monday that it maintains the government’s “vote of confidence” as it pursues its investment strategy and global business operations. The company has investments in Twitter, Apple, Lyft, Citigroup and hotel chains like the Four Seasons, Movenpick and Fairmont.
CEO Talal al-Maiman said staff at the company, which manages more than $12.5 billion of investments around the world, are “focused on their unwavering responsibilities to KHC’s shareholders and stakeholders.”
“We are pleased to play a role in the continuing growth of Saudi Arabia and to strengthen the economy for the benefit of all,” al-Maiman said.
The company, which lost 7.5 percent in trading Sunday another 5 percent Monday, made no reference its chairman’s arrest.
Saudi Twitter accounts released several other names of those arrested, including Alwalid al-Ibrahim, a Saudi businessman with ties to the royal family who runs the Arabic satellite group MBC; Amr al-Dabbagh, the former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority; Ibrahim Assaf, a former finance minister, and Bakr Binladin, head of the Saudi Binladin Group, a major business conglomerate.
The king on Monday was also pictured meeting Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad Hariri, who unexpectedly resigned during a trip to Saudi Arabia. The photos of their meeting did little to quiet speculation over his surprising move and current status.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, Hariri’s top political rival at home, alleged on Sunday that Saudi Arabia had forced Hariri to resign amid the deepening Saudi-Iran rivalry and questioned whether Saudi Arabia was also keeping him detained in the sweep.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.