Saudi king wants officials charged over floods
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Monday ordered that charges be pressed against officials over the deaths of 122 people in flash floods, which sparked a rare media outcry against alleged corruption, Reuters reported.
The floods, caused by torrential rain in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah last year, damaged thousands of houses built in dry river beds, and raised questions about the fate of public funds destined for sewage and drainage systems in the city.
The royal order came after heavy rains killed three people last week in the capital Riyadh, exposing weaknesses in infrastructure and emboldening calls for greater transparency in public fund management in the world's top oil exporter.
The monarch, who has repeatedly stated his commitment to fighting graft and corruption, has ordered that an investigation committee be formed to look into the causes of the Jeddah disaster.
"Taking into account the gravity of this calamity and its repercussions ... we uphold finding the truth in all its details in order to severely punish all those proved to be involved," he said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
The statement did not name any of the accused officials and did not disclose their number but said an investigation committee would continue to probe more individuals.
A Saudi lawyer closely linked to the case said about 200 accused face charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. They range from contractors who worked on government projects to senior public officials.
Jeddah has become notorious for its pot-holed streets, poor sewage system and slums. Residents often complain that the government pays far less attention to Jeddah's infrastructure than that of Riyadh, the home of the al-Saud ruling family.
Saudi opposition activists urged King Abdullah to allow parliamentary elections and to combat mismanagement following the Jeddah floods.
The U.S. ally is a monarchy without an elected parliament or political parties. Its courts are run by clerics who apply an austere version of Sunni Muslim Islamic law, and newspapers usually follow the official line.
Many Saudis believe King Abdullah supports some political reforms, but diplomats say his room for manoeuvre is restricted by opposition from powerful members of the royal family and many clerics.