Trump has developed a close relationship with the Saudi authorities, who have backed his hawkish stance on regional foe Iran © AP
Donald Trump has endorsed Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on corruption, defending the action against dozens of princes, ministers and business titans that has raised concerns among investors in the kingdom.
The US president on Monday night tweeted his “great confidence” in King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying “they know exactly what they are doing”.
The crown prince’s raid on graft has shaken the Gulf monarchy, netting suspects such as billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, a son of the former king.
“Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!” he added.
Mr Trump, who made his first overseas presidential visit to Riyadh in May, has developed a close relationship with the Saudi authorities, who have enthusiastically backed his hawkish stance on regional foe Iran, which Riyadh accuses of interference across the Muslim world.
Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, travelled to Saudi Arabia last week to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process, according to a White House official.
The president’s endorsement comes as investors grapple with the implications of a crackdown that has imprisoned senior officials and business leaders.
Many Saudis have welcomed the move as a long overdue bid to clean up financial abuse as the government continues austerity measures to deal with the sustained slump in oil prices.
Others, however, have been alarmed at the breadth of the purge, fearing a knock-on effect on confidence among the country’s business elite at a time when Prince Mohammed’s reform programme is seeking to boost investment.
Worries that the investigations amount to a politically inspired purge of potential opposition to the crown prince’s meteoric rise have also been rejected by Saudi officials.
One Saudi official source told the FT that the purpose of the measures against princes and officials was “to eradicate corruption and hold individuals accountable”.
The source expressed “surprise” at the statements of some media outlets “falsely claiming these measures were conducted for other purposes”.
Prince Alwaleed has been arrested on allegations including money laundering, bribery and extortion of officials, the source said.
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah was arrested on claims of embezzlement, fraudulent employment and awarding contracts to his own companies, the source said.
The source denied that Prince Miteb was opposed to Prince Mohammed’s accession, saying he was “among the first officials” to pledge his allegiance.
Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the former deputy governor of Riyadh, is suspected of corruption related to the $22.5bn Riyadh Metro project, the source added, saying he had exploited his influence to award contracts to companies affiliated with the son of former King Abdullah.
These allegations, under investigation, could not be immediately verified and the suspects are not contactable.
The attorney-general has said the judicial process will run independently and all suspects are innocent until proven guilty.
Additional reporting by Barney Jopson in Washington