Saudi Arabia has been in turmoil after an economist published a research paper showing that 1.1 trillion riyals (more than US $293 billion) have disappeared from the state budget without a trace.
Hamzeh Alsalem wrote that the total international revenues – from oil sales and loans – from the beginning of 2015 until September 2016 stood at 1.9 trillion riyal, “and after deducting the government’s expenditure, including the cost of the war in Yemen, we were left with 1.1 trillion riyal, but they are gone. Where are the 1.1 trillion riyal ($293 billion)?”
In response, the financial analyst Khaled Eluteibi called him “either a liar or an ignoramus” and wrote in his column that no money had disappeared. “Foreign currency data is published monthly, and according to the World Bank the kingdom spends 100 billion riyal every month, so it all adds up.”
On social media, many claimed that the publication was meant to sow divisions in the Saudi public and was in fact a plot against the unity of the Saudi people.
However, many accused the leaders of the country, mainly the heir to the throne, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of stealing the money.
“Saudi Arabia faces many big plots and therefore as the children of one nation stand united against these rumors,” Saoud Suliman wrote.
السعودية تتعرض لمخطط ومؤامرات كبيره لذلك يجب ان نقف كأبناء وطن واحد ضد نشر الاشاعات ضد الحكومه السعودية 🇸
— Eng:سعود المحيني (@saud1_al3nezi) November 6, 2016
“Friends, it is impossible,” Malak Mohammad wrote. “Not everything that gets published needs to be taken seriously. Let’s see who was behind this rumor.”
— Malak Mohmmad (@Malak_Mwo) November 6, 2016
But others said it was a case of massive fraud.
“If it’s true, and the cost of the war did not exceed 20 billion, then it’s launch was meant to obfuscate the greatest fraud in history,” Mutaaleq wrote.
#اختفاء_ترليون_من_خزينه_الدوله إن صح أن تكلفة الحرب في اليمن لا تتجاوز 20 مليارا فأختلاقها كان مجرد غطاء لتمرير أكبر عملية إختلاس في التاريخ
— بـأس (@baiss888) November 6, 2016
Critics of the royal family launched a hashtag #Bin_Salman_give_trillion_back
Emad Elhawass posted a picture relating to the results of the US elections and wrote: “Expect more taxes so that we can pay head tax to Trump, our new ruler. That professional thief will make you forget about the trillion and say, ‘just rid us of the tax hike and soaring prices.'”
— عماد الحواس (@emadoviich) November 10, 2016
“Beware of the rowdy bear,” someone warned the Saudis, “don’t let him sell Aramco [the Saudi oil company that is about to start being traded] and steal your children’s future just like he stole our past and present.”