Eleven princes were detained in Saudi Arabia on Saturday following the formation of an anti-corruption committee by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Saudi-backed broadcaster Al-Arabiya reported.
Three ministers were removed from their positions: Economy and Planning Minister Adel bin Mohammed Faqih, National Guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Naval Forces Commander Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan, said Saudi TV, the government’s official broadcaster.
King Salman ordered the new anti-corruption campaign as part of an “active reform agenda aimed at tackling a persistent problem that has hindered development efforts in the Kingdom in recent decades,” a press release from the Saudi Ministry of Communications said.
The royal decree said the committee was needed “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds” and will “trace and combat corruption at all levels,” according to the release.
The three ousted ministers were replaced, with Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf Al Muqren becoming National Guard minister, Mohammed bin Mazyad Al-Tuwaijri becoming the Economy and Planning Minister, and Vice Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghifaili taking on the role of Naval Forces Commander.
The committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has the authority to investigate, arrest, issue travel bans and freeze the assets of those it finds corrupt.
The 32-year-old has long been a prominent figure in Saudi politics, seen as a key power player behind the king and a reformer by Saudi standards.
Since his appointment some restrictions on women have been eased and last month, Mohammed bin Salman vowed to destroy “extremist ideologies” in a bid to return to “a more moderate Islam.”
John Defterios, CNN’s Emerging Markets Editor who has covered Saudi Arabia since the 1990s, said the sweep was part of the Crown Prince’s “top to bottom overhaul.”
“From literally his Vision 2030 plan, to social reforms with women driving, and as we see now the third leg of it, an aggressive push to root out corruption,” he said.
Defterios said there had long been concerns about corruption within Saudi Arabia.
“The correction in oil prices has changed the game they cannot afford to go business as usual as they have for the past 20 years,” he said.
“That’s the reason why they want to diversify the economy and also make a bold attempt to root out corruption.”
But he added corruption was unlikely to be the whole reason behind the radical and wide-reaching purge.
“We can’t overlook the fact that the Crown Prince is young and very likely in power for decades. He wants to consolidate the ranks around him,” he said.
In an opinion piece for CNN last month, Ian Black questioned the true impact of Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms.
His appointment as crown prince instead of the incumbent Mohammed bin Nayef was highly significant “in a country where dynastic rivalries really matter,” Black said.
In Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy, Mohammed bin Salman had been consolidating power by appointing cousins to key jobs.
“There is no sign that [King Salman], or his high-profile son and heir, are considering diluting their own powers as a new era dawns,” he wrote.