middle east

WTF is Going on In Saudi Arabia?

Arrests, corruption allegations, and a deadly helicopter crash.

This article originally appeared on VICE News.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince this weekend ordered the detention of dozens of princes, ministers and high-ranking officials in a "corruption" crackdown widely seen as a ploy to consolidate his grip on power.

Within hours of being appointed the head of a new anti-corruption committee, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old favorite son of King Salman, held 11 princes along with several members of the country's upper ranks.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a major investor in Twitter and Citigroup, is the most high-profile detainee; the tycoon is charged with money laundering, bribery and extortion, a source told Reuters.

Saudi authorities announced Monday the freezing of the suspects' bank accounts, State-run Al-Arabiya reported. The upheaval spiked oil prices, with barrels of Brent crude hitting $62.55 USD, its highest price since July 2015.

Here's what you need to know:

  • Saudi authorities have yet to name the detainees, but officials speaking to Reuters confirmed Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the former head of the Saudi National Guard, was arrested, as was Economy Minister Adel Fakeih; Riyadh Governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah; and Former Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.
  • Reuters reports some detainees are being held in the Ritz Carlton hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh.
  • Mohammad bin Salman, or MbS as he is known, wants to reform Saudi society and end its dependence on oil revenue. After a dramatic rise to power in recent years, MbS is the Kingdom's principal decision-maker on policies ranging from security to the economy. He spearheaded the country's two-year war with Yemen, and its recent diplomatic spat with Qatar.
  • Despite implementing austerity measures, MbS is no stranger to opulence. Last year, while holidaying in the south of France, he spotted a Russian tycoon's superyacht and bought it for $550 million USD.
  • Adding to the national instability, Prince Mansour Bin Muqrin died Sunday in a helicopter crash near the Yemeni border. It is unclear how the crash happened, but just 24 hours previously the Saudi government said it had intercepted a missile from Yemen near Riyadh's international airport.
  • Another factor is Saturday's resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Claiming there was a plot to kill him, al-Hariri blamed Hezbollah and its Iranian backers for destabilizing the region. Hezbollah hit back, accusing Saudi Arabia of forcing al-Hariri to quit. On Monday al-Hariri metwith King Salman in Riyadh.