Ex-Premier’s Graft Case a Test of Justice in Oil-Rich Kuwait
From the Independent
Where is Sheikh Jaber? Kuwait was abuzz with the question as citizens on social media demanded to know the whereabouts of their 79-year-old former prime minister. He’d been ordered detained pending trial in an unprecedented move last month over the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars from a military aid fund.
When the scandal involving the sheikh and another royal family member erupted into public view nearly two years ago, it unleashed a rare wave of street protests. It prompted the Cabinet s resignation and forced a reckoning in the Gulf Arab state about endemic corruption that has entrapped ministers and stained the country’s sprawling bureaucracy for generations.
Activists believe corruption runs rampant through the region of oil-rich Gulf Arab sheikhdoms, but public criminal cases against senior officials and royal family members remain rare, typically playing out behind palace doors
That may be changing, however, with recent explosive feuds over money laundering in Kuwait, a major corruption sweep in Saudi Arabia and last week’s arrest of Qatar’s powerful finance minister in an embezzlement probe.
Now, Kuwait’s justice system is testing government pledges to hold ministers accountable for $790 million gone missing from the Defense Ministry fund years ago.
The ministerial court ordered two former ministers and royal family members, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak Al Sabah and his ally, former Defense and Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah Al Sabah, detained last month in Kuwait’s Central Prison over their suspected misuse of the ministry’s funds. The court also sent lower-ranking officials to jail pending trial and imposed a travel ban on Sheikh Jaber, according to a statement widely published in Kuwaiti media.
But Sheikh Jaber has not been spotted in public since the criminal prosecution began, and speculation has swirled about his fate. Many doubt the former prime minister is, in fact, languishing at the notorious prison on the dusty outskirts of Kuwait City riddled with reported coronavirus outbreaks.
That doubt reveals the deep-rooted distrust among Kuwaitis that authorities are pursuing the case in earnest. Social media has been ablaze in rumors in recent weeks even after the court accepted the defense team’s request to ban news and social media from publishing details about the trial sessions.