Saudi Arabia Public Prosecution Takes Actions Against Money Laundering

Since the 2020 revisions that gave it independent powers to investigate major crimes requiring detention, the Saudi Arabia Public Prosecution has taken a number of steps that demonstrate its commitment to pursuing serious financial crimes.

Three recent developments involving the Public Prosecution reflect that continuing commitment with regard to anti-money laundering (AML) enforcement.  First, on December 25, the Public Prosecution clarified its approach to pursuing foreign nationals who have been accused of committing money laundering inside Saudi Arabia after they leave the Kingdom.  According to Abdullah Al-Zahrani, Acting Member of the Public Prosecution Anti-Money Laundering Unit, Saudi authorities would submit a request through the Kingdom’s International Cooperation Unit to the countries of those foreign nationals who were accused of the crime and left the Kingdom to extradite them to Saudi Arabia and hand them over for trial.

Although the countries of those convicted of the crime have the right to extradite them to the Kingdom, Al-Zahrani reportedly also noted that the Kingdom allows the countries of the foreign nationals accused on money laundering to pledge to Saudi Arabia that they would try them in their competent courts for those crimes.

Second, on January 2, the Public Prosecution announced that it had convicted six defendants, some Saudi nations and some non-Saudi nations, in money laundering cases.  Those defendants received sentences totaling 31 years’ imprisonment and fines totaling more than SR152 million ($40.5 million), as well as travel bans on the convicted Saudi citizens for a period equal to their jail terms and deportation of the convicted expatriates after serving their prison terms.

According to the Public Prosecution, the defendants included some Saudi citizens, who are owners of commercial entities such as furniture upholstery and flower businesses as well as fake businesses, and several expatriates who were involved in money laundering transactions.  Public Prosecution investigations established that the Saudi citizens allowed the expatriates to use their bank accounts, in return for a monthly fee of SR10,000, as a cover for transferring their illegal funds to locations outside the Kingdom. Under article two of the Saudi Anti-Money Laundering Law, transactions that are made under the pretext of practicing bogus commercial activities are considered a criminal act.

Third, on January 20, the Saudi Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority reportedly stated that an unnamed head of a committee at the Saudi Ministry of the Interior was recently convicted of embezzlement, forgery, and money laundering, and was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay SR1.02 million ($271,620).  A businessman who was convicted of complicity in the same case was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of SR500,000 ($133,147).  In addition, both defendants were banned from travel outside the Kingdom for three years each after serving their terms.

Compliance officers in companies that are based or operate in Saudi Arabia should brief other company executives, as appropriate, on these recent developments, and incorporate information about the developments into their AML training.  Company executives and managers, whether physically located in the Kingdom or elsewhere, need to understand that complicity in money laundering activities affecting the Kingdom can lead to sustained efforts to prosecute them, whether in the Kingdom or the country in which they reside.

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