Some Saudi billionaires and millionaires are selling investments in neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) 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.
Based on investigations over the past three years, authorities estimate that at least $100 billion has been misused “through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades,” Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a statement on Thursday. A total of 208 individuals have been called in for questioning so far and seven have been released without charge, he said.
Until the surprise arrests of dozens of people last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s elite was the darling of Deutsche Bank, UBS, Credit Suisse 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.
“There is no doubt that many offshore investors are reassessing their view of the Gulf as a stable and predictable place to do business,” said Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce, a London-based senior economist and geopolitical strategist at Standard Chartered Bank. “There is a growing perception that governance is becoming increasingly arbitrary or at least less rule-based.”
The central bank asked lenders in the kingdom to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals who aren’t under arrest, as well as the assets of those being detained, people familiar with the matter said.