Govt won’t keep its mouth shut on graft: Minister


WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia has completed the main wave of arrests in its sweeping crackdown on corruption and is preparing to channel billions of dollars of seized funds into economic development projects, Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid Al-Qasabi said on Monday.

“As far as I know, this is the case,” Qasabi told Reuters when asked whether authorities had finished taking large numbers of top officials and businessmen into custody.

“Now the government will not keep its mouth shut when it sees a corrupt case. So definitely it will act. But this is — in terms of its magnitude, in terms of scale, in terms of how, in terms of why, in terms of now, that’s it,” he said.

A special Ministry of Finance account has been opened to receive such funds, which the public prosecutor’s office has estimated should eventually total between $50 billion and $100 billion, Qasabi said during a visit to Washington to meet US businessmen.

“This money definitely will be used for housing, for the general public needs, because it is the money for the people. It will not be used for any other issue but for development projects.”

The public prosecutor is expected in a few days to issue a statement on the status of the investigation, including how many people are detained and how many face legal charges, Qasabi added.

Qasabi said economic reforms program was on track and the government, having identified sectors to be privatized, was working on the complex mechanics of asset transfers that would take place by mid-2019. Sea ports will be a major area of activity, he said.

Privatization of grain mills under the Saudi Grains Organization is in its final phase and could be completed by mid-2018, Qasabi added.

Authorities have promised stimulus steps and Qasabi noted they had this year increased the capital of the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, which makes soft loans to businesses.

More stimulus measures are likely to be announced with the 2018 state budget, expected to be released in late December, or before then, he added. Financial incentives offered by the government could total SR70 billion ($18.7 billion).

Qasabi chairs a program that encourages strategic Saudi companies to expand globally in sectors such as food, logistics, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. The government will allocate money to help them grow by acquiring other firms locally, he said. — Reuters