An article “Saudi Billionaires Look to Move Funds to Escape Asset Freeze” that was posted on Bloomberg’s website on November 9 says Wealthy Saudis are moving assets out of the region to avoid the risk of getting caught up in what authorities call a crackdown on corruption.

Some Saudi billionaires and millionaires are reportedly selling investments in neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries and turning them into cash or liquid holdings overseas.  In Saudi Arabia, some are in talks with banks and asset managers to move money outside the country.

The article says that based on investigations over the past three years, authorities estimate that at least $100 billion has been misused “through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades.”  A total of 208 individuals have reportedly been called in for questioning so far and seven have been released without charge.

Until the surprise arrests of dozens of people last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s elite was the darling of Deutsche Bank AG, UBS Group AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and other global banks seeking to manage their wealth, according to the article.  They now find themselves on the run in the face of a campaign that has targeted some of the kingdom’s most prominent princes, billionaires and officials.

The central bank asked lenders in the kingdom to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals who aren’t under arrest, as well as the assets of those being detained, people familiar with the matter said.

In addition, the United Arab Emirates central bank reportedly asked financial institutions to provide information on the accounts of 19 Saudi citizens.  The regulator asked to be informed of any accounts, deposits, investments, financial instruments, credit facilities, safe deposit boxes or financial transfers linked to the people, according to a circular seen by Bloomberg.

The arrests have prompted investors from within the region to sell.  The selloff across the GCC has cost stocks $17.6 billion as of Wednesday, dragging the collective market capitalization for bourses in the region to $900 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.  

The crackdown started after King Salman formed an anti-corruption commission last Saturday, headed by his son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.  Among those detained was Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah.  Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s 61st-richest person, also was arrested.

The purge, affecting some of Saudi Arabia’s richest families, comes at a time when the economy is struggling to cope with the slump in oil prices: unemployment among Saudis is rising and non-oil gross domestic product is barely expanding.  The government has raised tens of billions of dollars from international bond markets and has drawn down on central bank reserves to finance a budget deficit that reached about 15 percent of gross domestic product in 2015.