Saudi Crown Prince calls Iran's supreme leader 'new Hitler'

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) told The New York Times that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) is "the new Hitler of the Middle East". PHOTOS: REUTERS

RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has denounced Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the "new Hitler of the Middle East", as tensions simmer between the regional rivals.

Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran have traded a bitter war of words after a missile fired from Yemen was intercepted near Riyadh airport on Nov 4. The missile was claimed by Yemen's Tehran-backed Houthi rebels.

Iran's "supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East", Prince Mohammed told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday (Nov 23).

"We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn't work. We don't want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East."

Teheran has strongly denied supplying any missiles to the rebels, and President Hassan Rouhani has warned Saudi Arabia of Iran's "might".

The spike in tensions coincides with Prince Mohammed's new anti-corruption purge, which saw around 200 elites including princes, ministers and business tycoons arrested or sacked earlier this month.

The Prince described as "ludicrous" reports equating the crackdown to a power grab, saying that many of those detained at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel had already pledged allegiance to him.

"A majority of the royal family" is behind him, the prince said, dismissing longstanding rumours of internal opposition to his meteoric rise.

He said 95 per cent of those detained agree to a "settlement", or handing over ill-gotten gains to the Saudi state treasury.

Saudi Arabia's Attorney-General estimates at least US$100 billion (S$134.7bil) has been misused in embezzlement or corruption over several decades.

The authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned assets related to the alleged graft cases would be seized as state property, in what they describe as a top-down approach to battling endemic corruption.

"About 1 per cent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 per cent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court," the prince said.

"We have experts making sure no businesses are bankrupted in the process," he added.

The purge has triggered uncertainty among businesses that could lead to capital flight or derail reforms, experts say, at a time when the kingdom is seeking to attract badly needed investments to offset a protracted oil slump.

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