Saudi banks freeze more than 1,200 accounts in probe, number still rising: sources

Saudi Arabian 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 said on Tuesday.

They added that the number is continuing to rise.

Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain.

Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, one regional banker said, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The banker did not name the companies affected but said they included listed and unlisted firms across many sectors.

He added 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.

A central bank spokesman was not available to comment.

Among top business executives detained in the probe are billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding; Nasser bin Aqeel 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 between 9 and 10 percent on Tuesday.

One of the bankers speaking to Reuters said the central bank had met with some foreign banks this week to reassure them that the freezing of accounts targeted individuals, and that firms linked to those people would not be damaged.

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