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Saudi Hopes Purge Will Help Push to Join Anti-Illicit Funding Body

FILE - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Oct. 24, 2017.

Saudi Arabia has high hopes that a campaign of arrests to crack down on corruption will improve its chances of joining the Financial Action Task Force, a global body dedicated to combating illicit money flows.

The kingdom, one of only two G-20 nations along with Indonesia which is not a FATF member, has tried for years to shake off a reputation as a breeding ground for corruption and terror financing.

Its last attempt to join the inter-governmental body, which has 37 members, was unsuccessful in 2010 and some lobbyists may oppose the new Saudi push before an expected vote mid next year.

But achieving membership offers the possibility of strengthening Riyadh’s international standing at a time when it wants foreign investors to back its multi-billion dollar transformation plan, as well as improving global financial ties for its banks.

Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom detained dozens of senior business people and government officials last month, accusing them of crimes including money laundering although not of terror financing.

Political analysts say the future king has also tried to tighten his grip on power through the purge.

The crackdown — which involved the freezing of more than 2,000 bank accounts and liaising with central banks in among others Switzerland, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -stress-tested the Saudi anti-money laundering system and found it largely effective, say sources familiar with the matter.

The system will undergo further tests in the coming weeks as Saudi Arabia targets around $100 billion of settlements with some of those detained.

“This will strengthen Saudi Arabia’s position as a reformer and its efforts to move closer to a corruption-free society,” said Jaspal Singh, who advises on anti-money laundering in the Middle East and North America.