Claims Saudi Prince Tortured Are Exaggerated, But Something’s Moving in Saudi Arabia
On November 4, 2017, the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (aka MbS) had Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud arrested.
Officially, authorities said that Prince Al-Waleed faces charges of corruption and money laundering. Hours before the arrest, MbS announced he had formed an anti-corruption commission, which he himself would lead. Al-Waleed was one of 11 other princes and 38 former ministers who were caught in the Crown Prince’s net.
Al-Waleed bin Talal’s place of detention is no regular prison. He and the other high-caliber prisoners are “guests” at the Ritz Carlton Riyadh Hotel. But rumors are spreading. One claim is: “Saudi Prince tortured!”
Al-Waleed is said to have been tortured during several interrogations; the same is being said of his fellow detainees. As part of the alleged torture, Al-Waleed was hung upside down “to send a message.” (Source: EXCLUSIVE: ‘American mercenaries are torturing’ Saudi elite rounded up by new crown prince – and billionaire Prince Alwaleed was hung upside down ‘just to send a message,’ The Daily Mail, November 22, 2017; last accessed November 24, 2017.) But, claims the London-based The Daily Mail, the torturers are alleged employees of Academi.
Most Americans won’t recognize Academi, but they will recognize Blackwater. Academi is Blackwater’s new name—perhaps adopted to sound less menacing, given the company’s less than friendly reputation in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Academi and parent company Constellis have denied the claims and the fact it has any “employees” in Saudi Arabia. The reason for the alleged use of foreign mercenaries is to avoid pesky social situations where some of the same officers who have been obeying or saluting the detainees up to a few days earlier might be asked to force information out of them. (Source: Ibid.)
While The Daily Mail does not name the source, making the claims of torture rather grandiose, they are not entirely without merit.
They have little to do with the almost $200.0 billion confiscated from the prince’s accounts. That doesn’t require torture to secure. The accounts would simply have been frozen by royal “decree.” Torture tends to be used to get information, which is usually more political in nature.
So, if there was no need to torture the plutocratic prisoners to get their bank account numbers, which purpose would the torture have served? The answer is simple: a political one. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has plenty of billions of his own. What he wants now is loyalty—and the funds he has already confiscated—to pursue an ambitious political project.
The Prince Has a Big Plan; Grabbing His Rivals’ Money Is Just Step One
There is nothing ordinary about the arrests, even if the charges of corruption and money laundering appear to be.
Corruption is not only common in the Gulf States of the Middle East; it is pervasive. Bribery and kickbacks—often called “Bakhshesh”—are one of the costs of doing business, any business. Five of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world are in the Middle East. (Source: Summit to Tackle Corruption in the Middle East, Middle East Business, June 22, 2017.)
Indeed, corruption is considered a necessary instrument of power and it’s controlled from the very highest levels of society as a form of patronage that select few can practice as long as they can keep the ruler’s favor. (Source: The anti-corruption drive in Saudi Arabia is doomed to fail, The Independent, November 10, 2017.)
The “anti-corruption commission” has cast too wide a net to merely cut off some big fish from their license to take kickbacks and bribes. There would hardly have been the need to arrest, which in a place like Saudi Arabia ,on such a wide scale, can affect the world oil prices and trigger security concerns.
Indeed, MbS has much bigger plans; he wanted the princes’ and notables’ arrests to cause a mighty sandstorm in Saudi Arabia and beyond as a deterrent. Except that the goal is not to deter corruption. It’s to thwart opposition to the major political and economic transformation MbS is planning.
This Is No Mere Anti-Corruption Campaign
More than an anti-corruption drive, Saudi Arabia is witnessing the implementation of a new political course—at least in the designs of its Crown Prince. It’s a process not unlike what President Vladimir Putin led with the Russian equivalent of the billionaire Saudi princes—the “oligarchs”—in 2003. The message was, to put it crudely: you can make your money however you see fit and you can keep it. But forget any political ambitions.
Some of those who challenged Putin are still in jail, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The Saudi arrests also came just weeks after a visit to the Saudi capital of Riyadh by President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kuchner this past October. This raises the prospect, or suspicion, that Trump may have known what was coming.
The arrest of Prince Al-Waleed in this context raises many questions about what opinion the White House may have about Prince MbS’ reforms and arrests. Moreover, Prince Al-Waleed is a well known figure to the American financial world. He owns billions in U.S. stocks, including major holdings in Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C). He has also espoused generally “progressive” (by Saudi standards) positions on such things as women being allowed to drive in the Kingdom.
But, Al-Waleed may have expressed doubts or misgivings about the reforms MbS wants to launch in a package known as “Vision 30.”
Trump tweeted his approval over the arrests, playing up the official anti-corruption justifications. Trump even added “insult to arrest” as far as Al-Waleed is concerned. The president tweeted: I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing….(Source: Twitter).
There’s something of a history between trump and Al-Waleed. In December 2015, the billionaire businessman prince and Lyft investor tweeted about Trump:
You are a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.
Withdraw from the U.S presidential race as you will never win.
— الوليد بن طلال (@Alwaleed_Talal) December 11, 2015
“Fun fact:” Prince Al-Waleed’s yacht, which he named Kingdom 5KR, once belonged to none other than Donald Trump.
Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud is 62. He is a member of the Royal family and as such a relative of the ambitious Prince MbS who had him arrested. Indeed, he is the grandson of late Saudi King Abdullah, nephew of Ibn Saud, the first Saudi king. He is said to be 41st richest man in the world with a net worth of $17.3 billion. Therefore, he’s a man with wealth, power, and influence. He’s not someone who can be arrested without breaking a few eggs and making some noise.