The End to Bakshish?

Nov 5, 20173 comments

Saudi Corruption: On Saturday 3rd November, guests at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh received an urgent notice to vacate the hotel by 11 PM. The notice went on to state … “unfortunately, we will not be able to grant an extension request due to high-security procedures dictated by the higher authorities”.

The new guests about to occupy the luxury hotel were an assortment of figures from the highest reaches of Saudi Arabia’s political and business establishments. Apart from the high-profile billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, according to social media reports, they are said to include ten more princes and the following, among others:

  • Ibrahim Al Assaf, who was the minister of finance for twenty years from 1996 to 2016
  • Bakr Binladen, Chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group. Which is known to have run into serious financial problems. Particularly since a massive crane collapsed at the Holy Mosque in Makkah in 2015
  • Waleed Al Ibrahim, Chairman of MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Company)
  • Amr Dabbagh, CEO of the Al Dabbagh Group of Jeddah, and former governor of SAGIA (Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority) from 2004 to 2012, where he created a dream for the Saudi economy that was never realized and turned out to be the ugly reality of the unfinished economic cities
  • Saleh Kamel, the long-time Chairman of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Chairman of Dallah Albaraka Group
  • Adel Fakieh, the current Minister of Economy, and before that Minister of Labor from 2010 to 2015. As well as a billionaire businessman
  • Khalid Almolhem, Chairman of state-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Saud Darwish, former Chairman of STC (Saudi Telecom Company) 

Some colorful personalities

Some of these involuntary hotel guests are known to have chequered histories. For example, Prince Turki Bin Nasser, former head of the Saudi Arabian Environmental Agency, and before that with the air force. He was at the center of a scandal in 2005. When the UK’s Serious Fraud Office investigated bribery in connection with the massive Al Yamama Arms deal. At the time, The Guardian wrote: “He has nearly 200 classic cars, a £20m private Boeing business jet, a large yacht called the Sarah, a lavish mansion in Beverly Hills and houses in Barcelona, Riyadh, Dharan, and London. His London home is in Sussex Square, near Hyde Park.”

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal is another colorful character. In 1999, the Economist ran a story under the headline “The mystery of the world’s second-richest businessman”. Stating: “his sums don’t add up”. However, he has survived all that. Even sued Forbes in 2013 for daring to claim that he was “only” the world’s 26th richest businessman.

On the other hand, it is difficult to know why some of the others have been asked to stay at the Ritz Carlton. There is speculation based on their past in business and government, family names and connections. The announcement came around the same time as the establishment of a new committee to combat Saudi corruption chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Within hours of the new body being announced, reports of the detentions emerged. More Saudi arrests are expected. The ones detained so far are just on top of the list.

Social status and family connections – the longstanding sanctuary for Saudi corrupt elite

Fighting Saudi corruption was always seen as a laudable intention. Successive Saudi Arabian governments believed they were working to combat corruption. However, the people at the top were seen as untouchable, whether they were princes, politicians or leading businessmen. Once they entered this particular circle, doors for prosecutions closed behind them. Many young Saudis dreamt of joining this inner circle one day.

Saudi society is built on networking and family connections, where favors done to family members and family friends are seen as a duty. Of course, this sense of duty can easily turn into corruption when out of control.

In the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, Saudi Arabia is ranked as the 62nd least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. in other words, not among the best in the world but certainly not among the worst. According to the rankings, Saudi corruption averaged 62.86 from 2003 to 2016. Reaching an all-time high of 80 in 2008 and a record low of 46 in 2003.

Last night’s news gives Saudi society hope that, at long last, everyone will be treated equally for his or her deeds. If those who were detained are no longer beyond the reach of the law, all the big names known to every Saudi, then everyone must face the consequences of corruption.

Saudi Corruption and its impact on Saudi economy

This is a bold step in economically difficult times and Saudi corruption. New changes are introduced almost on a weekly basis. Such as raising utility prices, and openly tackling issues like extremism and religious conservatism. Saudi Arabia’s much-needed progress did not happen too soon. Today, the unspoken is finally becoming reality.

Today, many Saudis woke up with a feeling of optimism. With hopes for equality and fairness, progress in a cleaner and more transparent business environment, and respect for laws and regulations. The most valuable feeling is that Saudis can hope for equal treatment and dignity as humans. It is a momentum no Saudi would want to lose. Hopefully, it is real and lasting. Support is guaranteed.