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The Saudi Purge Six Weeks On: Investment Minister Comments

It’s been more than six weeks since the nighttime sweep that landed hundreds of detainees, princes and billionaires among them, in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a declared anti-corruption crackdown. In an interview last week in the capital, Commerce and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qasabi answered questions on the arrests and those held, starting with the timing.

Al-Qasabi: “We’re opening up sectors of the economy and the government is inviting global investment. People need to know it’s a level playing field. We can’t tolerate the perception that you have to corrupt officials to get into a business in Saudi Arabia. We had to clean it up before (Tuesday’s) budget and before the end of the year, because 2018 is going to be when we promote opportunities in all these sectors. We can’t afford to wait and lose.”

Read More: Are Saudi Arrests Crackdown, Shakedown or Purge?: QuickTake Q&A.

On the treatment of those detained.

Al-Qasabi: “I know for a fact they’re getting fair treatment. They’re allowed to call their families and they’re being offered settlements.”

What about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the investor with a $17.2 billion fortune and whose Kingdom Holding Co. owns stakes in companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Twitter Inc?

Al-Qasabi: “I know he’s negotiating his settlement, but I don’t know why he’s there. I’m not familiar with the specifics of the allegations against anybody.”

On the government’s intention.

Al-Qasabi: “This was to create a shock, to send a clear message internally and externally that Saudi Arabia from the top down is serious about fighting and eradicating corruption. Incremental change is fine, but sometimes you need sudden change. Certain bold decisions have to be made. It has to be aggressive.

“The message is clear. It’s well perceived among the mainstream population. People are happy that the government will take it all the way to eradicate corruption. Saudi Arabia should be applauded for taking this courageous stand.”

On how much longer settlement talks may take.

Al-Qasabi: “It won’t take long.” Anyone who refuses a deal will receive due process in court under Saudi law, he said.

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