Behind the walls of one of his many opulent palaces, the king was troubled. He knew all too well that the self-dealing ways and gold-plated lifestyle of the House of Saud — whose princes and princelings numbered in the thousands — had spiraled out of control. Things had to change.
That was a decade ago.
Leaked American diplomatic cables from the time described the attempts of then-King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to rein in the money-skimming excesses of his fabulously wealthy fellow royals. The Saudi Arabian monarch, already an octogenarian, reportedly told his brothers that he didn't want to face Judgment Day with "the burden of corruption" on his shoulders, the diplomatic memos said. He died in 2015.
Now the kingdom's brash young crown prince, 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, has proclaimed a new war on corruption. Acting at his behest, Saudi authorities have accused hundreds of people, including a dizzying roll call of prominent princes, of crimes that include graft, bribery and money laundering.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, the capital, on Oct. 24, 2017. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP/Getty Images)
The arid peninsula's business lore brims with tales of ambitious infrastructure projects that shimmered like mirages, their cost vastly inflated by blatant bribery demands from royal and VIP patrons, their completion delayed or doomed altogether by brazen high-level malfeasance.