One day after we reported that Saudi Arabia has started to freeze the accounts of the dozens of arrested royals, ministers and businessmen, in the process allowing Mohammed bin Salman to further cement control over the Kingdom, the Kingdom has taken its "money laundering" crackdown to the next level and on Tuesday, Saudi banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers told Reuters, adding that "the number is continuing to rise."
Since the "countercoup" on Sunday, the Saudi central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, a regional banker told Reuters, and while he did not name the companies affected , he said they included listed and unlisted firms across many sectors.
The banker also said that if the freezes stayed in place for long, they could start to hurt day-to-day business activities such as paying staff and creditors or making other transactions. A second banker said, however, that most of the frozen accounts belonged to individuals rather than companies, and that banks were being allowed by the regulator to continue to fund existing commitments.
In an e-mailed statement, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, or SAMA, said suspension of bank accounts of “persons of interest” is in response to Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them, according to Governor Ahmed Abdulkarim Alkholifey says in emailed statement. SAMA clarified that individual accounts, rather than corporate businesses, have been put in suspension until final court rulings, and explained that - for now - corporate businesses remain unaffected, which means that are no restrictions on money transfers through proper banking channels. Assuming, of course, one isn't an "individual" on MbS's black list, and the money in the bank has effectively been nationalized.
For now, it remains unclear what the total potential haul from the bank account crackdown would be. Yesterday we reported that just the 4 billionaires named previously, and who were arrested over the weekend including Pricne Alwaleed, have no less than $33 billion in net worth at risk.
Among top business executives detained in the probe are billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding; Nasser al Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel; and Amr al-Dabbagh, chairman of builder Red Sea International. The stocks of all three companies, which have issued statements saying they continue to operate as normal, plunged another 9-10% on Tuesday.
So when could the confiscatory process end? As we jokingly suggested yesterday, the ruling Saudi royal family has realized that not only can it crush any potential dissent by arresting dozens of potential coup-plotters, it can also replenish the country's foreign reserves, which in the past 3 years have declined by over $250 billion, by confiscating some or all of their generous wealth, which is in the tens if not hundreds of billions. If MbS continues going down the list, he just may recoup a substantial enough amount to what it makes a difference on the sovereign account.
He will naturally also provoke enough anger to start civil unrest, if not a domestic war, but let's cross that bridge when we get to it.