Over the weekend, Saudi King Salman shocked the world by abruptly announcing the arrests of 11 senior princes and some 38 ministers, including Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the world’s sixty-first richest man and the largest shareholder in Citi, News Corp. and Twitter. The purge was orchestrated by a new “supreme committee” to investigate public corruption created by King Salman but under the control of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who chairs the committee and is widely suspected of being the driving force behind the purge.
In addition to the arrests, two Royals have died since the purge began. Prince Mansour bin-Muqrin reportedly perished in a helicopter crash near the Yemen border earlier this week, and Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd – killed during a firefight as authorities attempted to arrest him.
For all the chaos, Saudi Arabia is benefiting from the climb in oil prices over the past week. However, signs of stress are showing up elsewhere in regional markets, as Bloomberg points out in a recent piece.
Many of the kingdom’s millionaires and billionaires – at least those who haven’t already seen their domestic and foreign accounts frozen by the government – fear that they might be next after WSJ revealed that MbS’s purge may be nothing more than a naked cash grab, as the paper reports that the kingdom is aiming to confiscate cash and assets worth as much as $800 billion.
So, they’re doing what any reasonable rich person would do given the circumstances; they’re liquidating their assets as quickly as possible and stashing their cash offshore until things quiet down.
Some Saudi billionaires and millionaires are selling investments in neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries and turning them into cash or liquid holdings overseas, the people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. In Saudi Arabia, some are in talks with banks and asset managers to move money outside the country, the people said.
Until the surprise arrests of dozens of people last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s elite was the target of Deutsche Bank AG, UBS Group AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and other global banks seeking to manage their wealth. They now find themselves on the run in the face of a campaign that has targeted some of the kingdom’s most prominent princes, billionaires and officials.
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