JEDDAH: Authorities in Saudi Arabia have arrested 22 people after seizing more than SR600 million ($160 million) in what has been described as “the largest case of corruption in the Kingdom.”
Crime investigators from the Saudi Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) apprehended 13 government employees from the municipality of Riyadh region, four businessmen, and five expats working for contracting companies over serious fraud allegations.
During searches of residences of the accused, officials found more than SR193 million in cash stashed away in make-shift ceilings, a service room in a mosque, a water tank, and an underground safe.
Also uncovered was an inventory of real estate purchases made by the arrested people using illegal funds, totaling almost SR142 million.
In addition, Nazaha seized almost SR150 million from the arrestees’ bank accounts, and following further investigation one of the accused was found to have used his position to disburse more than SR110 million through the Ministry of Finance’s Etimad unified digital services platform for commercial entities.
Other corrupt dealings were linked to SR2.5 million worth of grocery prepaid cards, nearly SR150,000 of fuel prepaid cards, and more than SR4.1 million in foreign currencies.
The 22 arrests were among 889 cases of corruption and discipline matters recently handled by Nazaha.
Legal consultant, Dimah Al-Sharif, told Arab News that the case stood out due to the involvement of public officers who had abused their positions of power for financial gain. “This type of case negatively affects the development of the state and its economy,” she said.
Ahmed Al-Hussein, Nazaha’s spokesman in Riyadh, told Al-Ekhbariya TV channel that in addition to judicial findings, the questioned parties had confessed to their crimes. “In previous cases, we’ve had many in question who were already retired, but they were still tried and did not escape justice,” he said.
Abdulmajeed Al-Mousa, a legal consultant in Riyadh, also spoke to the station about the case, and said: “For some time now, we’ve seen Nazaha announce arrests like these, which can only establish that the authorities have been relentless in stopping cases of corruption.
“The work done by Nazaha sends a clear message to anyone considering embarking on such endeavors. At the same time, these efforts protect state funds.”
Al-Mousa pointed out that Nazaha operates a toll-free number for people to report any suspected incidents of corruption and it could also be contacted via social media. Callers can provide information with complete anonymity and even recipients of bribes had been shown leniency by the authorities when coming forward to expose financial crime.
Riyadh lawyer, Faisal Al-Tayie, told Al-Ekhbariya: “It gives me pride to see such actions taken toward corruption, and the level of transparency carried out in the statement released by Nazaha is unprecedented and detailed, and it inspires a lot of trust.”
He said the authorities had shown that it did not matter how high-profile a person was, no one was above the law.