By Dr George Venturini
At the end of November 2006, a U.K. newspaper revealed that Saudi Arabia had given Britain ten days to suspend the Serious Fraud Office (S.F.O.) investigation into the country’s transactions or they would take the [arms] deal to France. Mr. Robert Wardle, head of the Serious Fraud Office, also said he had received a direct threat from the Saudi Arabian ambassador to London to terminate the investigations.
There was a clear intimation that Saudi Arabia would have stopped supplying the United Kingdom with intelligence about al-Qaeda terrorists if the investigation was continued. Apparently, two weeks were given to shut it down or S.F.O. investigators could have faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if they carried on.
“As he put it to me, British lives on British streets were at risk,” Mr. Wardle said. Prime Minister Blair’s intervention forced the inquiries to be stopped over concerns about a diplomatic row between the U.K. and the Saudi regime.
In a newspaper interview, Mr. Wardle acknowledged that the decision to terminate the investigation may have damaged “the reputation of the U.K. as a place which is determined to stamp out corruption.”
Delivery of the first two Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, out of 72 purchased by the Saudi Air Force, took place in June 2009.
Meanwhile, in August 2013 the Serious Fraud Office announced that it had lost thousands of documents relating to a probe into B.A.E. The U.K. agency said that it had lost 32,000 pages of data and 81 audio tapes linked to the bribery probe into B.A.E.’s Al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia. The lost material comprised ‘only’ 3 per cent of data about the deal. It said it lost the items when it returned more material than intended to a source in the investigation.
In February 2010 the United States Department of Justice decided to launch its own investigation since the payments had been channelled through a U.S. bank in Washington. In 2009, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who had been Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, was then to serve between 2005 and January 2015 29 January 2015 as Secretary General of the Saudi National Security Council, and had been Director General of the Saudi Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, had retained Mr. Louis Freeh, former F.B.I. Director of the U. S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, to represent him on legal matters surrounding the deal.
In 2010 B.A.E. pled guilty to a United States court, to charges of false accounting and making misleading statements in connection with the sales. B.A.E. was finally sentenced to a US$400 million fine under the plea bargain. The corporation’s conduct involved “deception, duplicity and knowing violations of law, I think it’s fair to say, on an enormous scale,” said the U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates.
In an interview with Frontline, Mr. Freeh admitted that approximately US$2 billion was sent from the Al-Yamamah account in the United Kingdom to bank accounts of the Saudi Ministry of Defence and Aviation at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.
Prince Bandar then Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. had control over the accounts and signatory authority. Mr. Freeh claimed that the money was sent to purchase arms through the offices of B.A.E. and the U.K. Ministry of Defence in a way which would circumvent “objections” by the U.S. Congress. Freeh did not supply any example of such a transaction.
Financing the deal with oil sales was not the only unusual feature of the contract. Correspondence towards the end of negotiations revealed that the price of the fighter planes had increased by more than 30 per cent by the time terms were agreed with Prince Sultan, the Saudi’s chief negotiator, in January 1986. Prince Sultan is the head of the Saudi Ministry of Defence and Aviation and is also Prince Bandar’s father.
The original deal listed the cost of each Tornado at 16.3 million pounds. But after further talks in Saudi Arabia, the price went up to 21.5 million pounds per aircraft, raising the price of the whole deal by 600 million pounds. One explanation for this is that the Saudis demanded additional expensive equipment be added to the aircraft. Others concluded that the overcharge was a way of hiding kickbacks. In October 1985 the Arabic-language newspaper Sourakia alleged that the additional 600 million pounds was the same amount paid in commissions to the Saudi Royal Family and ‘intermediaries’ in London. The Sourakia story was published just after the Al-Yamamah deal was negotiated. Shortly after, the story was translated from Arabic by the U.K. Foreign Office and forwarded to the Ministry of Defence with the advice that the Ministry should refuse all comment if questions were asked about the allegations of large secret commissions in the deal.
The success of the initial contract, which in the end totalled more than 43 billion pounds, has been attributed to then Prime Minister Thatcher, who lobbied hard on behalf of U.K. industry. For Margaret Thatcher it was a triumph for her policy of ‘Batting for Britain’. It was to keep 40,000 people in work until the end of the century. It was the largest arms deal in United Kingdom history. It was the biggest arms deal ever struck between two nations.
A Ministry of Defence briefing paper for Thatcher detailed her involvement in the negotiations. The Prime Minister had been wooing the Saudis in secret. During the spring of 1985 she held several meetings with Prince Bandar at 10 Downing Street, in Austria and Switzerland.
The Saudis’ main concern was that the U.K. should allow them to tie up the deal in their own way – corrupt.
Prince Bandar, son of Prince Sultan, the Saudi Defence Minister also played a key role in negotiations for the deal. From the start, the Al-Yamamah contract was shrouded in secrecy and suspicions began to surface that contracts were a result of kickbacks and bribery to members of the Saudi royal family and government officials. According to reports, the deal brought more than 15 million pounds to Bandar’s dollar account at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.
For the middlemen, the fixers behind the deal, it meant vast commissions. For Mark Thatcher, the son of Margaret Thatcher, it allegedly meant a 12 million pounds windfall – not bad, at the age of 31. In 1994 Sir Thomas Dalyell, a Scottish Labour Party member charged in the House of Commons that Mark Thatcher collected a 12 million pounds commission from the deal. The government did not confirm or deny it, but the competent authorities declined to investigate.
The public first saw some details about the unusual structure of the deal in the early part of this decade when the non-profit group Campaign Against Arms Trade came across classified documents between the U.K. and the Saudi negotiators which had been improperly archived by the U.K. government.
Critics say that the United Kingdom should not be selling warplanes and military equipment to a regime that is barbaric and undemocratic. They charge that the government refrains from criticising the Saudis’ appalling human rights abuses in order not to disrupt the arms sales. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade calls it an “endorsement of a country with a history of brutal repression.”
The Windsor-Battenberg Royal Family has some form when it comes to schmoozing dictators and thugs.
It has a consistent record in this department: in 2007 Prince William’s photo-ops with senior Indonesian generals prompted many human rights activists to ask whether ‘The Family’ seems to be operating merely as another lobby group for the U.K. arms industry.
The two generals appearing in the photograph on the right of Prince William happened to be among the most senior generals in the Indonesian military, and the photo caused a stir among members of Parliament and human rights groups. The encounter was seen at best, as clumsy and inappropriate. Nonetheless it left one Indonesian human rights activist asking of the Royal Family: “Have they become lobbyists for the UK arms industry?”
The Ministry of Defence had been forced to disclose details of the meeting in response to a Freedom of Information request. The meeting with then Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto and Rear Admiral Didik Heru Purnomo took place in February 2007 in the hall of the Household Cavalry Regiment’s officers’ mess in Windsor.
According to the Ministry of Defence, the Indonesian chief of defence forces was paying ‘a call’ on the British Chief of Defence Staff “to build defence relations” and, “as is customary when hosting foreign representatives, a visit to a military unit was organised.” It just so happened that the unit they went to visit was the Household Cavalry; and it also just so happened that Prince William was the orderly officer of the day.
According to the Ministry of Defence, “This was purely a chance encounter.” Clarence House played the meeting down even further, saying that the Prince happened to be introduced to the generals as “they passed each other in a corridor.”
Yet, the Palace line did not placate Dr. Roger Leslie Berry, then MP for Kingswood and chairman of the quadripartite select committee on strategic export controls, who said that as “arms deals with Indonesia have been incredibly controversial in recent years it is totally inappropriate that William should be seen to have any involvement.”
The photograph was used for public relation purpose on the Indonesian embassy’s website – naturally. The Ministry of Defence insisted that Prince William was “not present in a royal capacity”. However, Symon Hill from the Campaign Against Arms Trade called the claim “bizarre”, given that “whatever he does is seen as having royal approval.”
Dr. Berry insisted it is “not the kind of thing the royal family should be touching with a bargepole.”
For more than a decade there had been widespread condemnation of U.K. arms sales to Indonesia. In 1996 Quaker activists used hammers to disable a Hawk jet aircraft destined for Indonesia. And there was outrage when former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy collapsed after Labour approved the sale of the aircraft in 1997.
At their height from 1997 to 2000 U.K. arms sales to Indonesia were worth roughly 100 million pounds a year, but by 2004 this had dropped to 1 million pounds. The fall was due partly to the availability of much cheaper Russian equipment. But it was also a response to U.K. public reaction to the regime’s brutality in the final stages of the regime’s presence in East Timor, and to the ongoing, vicious occupation of West Papua.
However, efforts started again to revive the trade. The Defence Export Services Organisation exists to promote U.K. arms sales abroad and works out of the Minister of Defence. At a symposium in 2007 the D.E.S.O.’s then head, Mr. Alan Garwood, soon to become Group Business Development Director in 2008 with responsibility for promoting B.A.E. globally, said that in Indonesia the U.K. arms industry was “a resurgent brand”. Although Indonesia had been “off our Christmas-card list for many years”, it was back on, he said. Ten years before Indonesia was “second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of its value to the UK defence industry,” he also said.
It is apt that Saudi Arabia should be referred to, what because of the then recent state visit by King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, and the Serious Fraud Office investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption between B.A.E. and Saudi Arabia being dropped, after pressure from Prime Minister Blair, in December 2006.
The Saudis had signed a deal worth billions for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets in September 2007. The Queen had wined and dined the Saudi king in October 2007.
“I am sure that the vast majority of British people do not want the royal family to be endorsing, even inadvertently, the arms trade, especially to vicious regimes,” said Symon Hill from Campaign Against Arms Trade. “It is vital that everyone representing the UK learns to distinguish between arms companies’ profits and the British public interest.”
But it is unlikely that Prince William will have a chance encounter with anyone voicing that opinion.
Deference to royalty seems to run deep in the United Kingdom psyche, but it is taking deference too far with Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Prince Andrew has a chequered past. From the leak of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010 one knows, through cables from the U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, some unsavoury facts. The Duke “railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the Al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia.” In 2011 he received more bad press after revelation of his close friendship with the American hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted in Florida for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. Prince Andrew continued his relationship with Epstein, after the billionaire convicted paedophile had been released from prison and placed on the U.S. sex offenders’ register.
The Prince later admitted that this friendship was “unwise”, but was reported on 22 October 2011 to have received “100 per cent” support from the Queen. He has also, in public at least, been given the support of the U.K. government, despite private hints from senior figures that it would cause no distress in Westminster if he were to resign.
In July 2011 his role as a trade representative was officially ended.
Yet it was announced on 23 October 2011 that the U.K. government had licensed the sale of 160,000 pounds worth of bullets and body armour to the Yemeni government after Prince Andrew met the country’s Prime Minister for trade talks.
It was the Duke of York’s third meeting in quick succession with leaders of the small Arab statelet, which had been ruled with an iron hand for more than twenty years by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but is now experiencing the wave of popular protest sweeping the Middle East and the ravages of civil war.
Though less well-publicised than the more violent events in Libya, the Yemeni protests persisted for weeks.
Prince Andrew held three meetings with Yemeni leaders between September 2009 and January 2010, all on the pretext of boosting U.K. exports. Prince Andrew first met President Saleh in September 2009, when both were visiting Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where he told the President that the U.K. wanted to get more involved in Yemen and that it wanted to increase investment in the country.
Two months later, the Prince was a guest at the presidential palace in Sana’a, where he met President Saleh and other leaders, including the Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar, and was guest of honour at a lunch hosted by the President. According to the Yemeni account of the visit, the Prince praised the country’s “unity, stability and development” and urged them to open up to more U.K. investment.
In 2011, when the Yemeni government was cracking down on popular protests, Prince Andrew paid a visit to Yemen’s prime minister, which was swiftly followed by an announcement of further arms sales to the poorest country in the Arab world.
The records of the Export Control Organisation, the body which regulates arms sales overseas, show that during the first quarter of 2010 – just after the Prince’s third meeting – licences were granted for the sale of 160,245 pounds worth of bullets and body armour to the Yemenis.
Prince Andrew’s dealings with Yemen’s leaders had all been in his capacity as U.K. Trade Representative and carried the blessing of the U.K. and U.S. governments, which saw President Saleh as an ally in the war against al-Qaeda. President Saleh ruled Yemen since the two halves of the country merged in 1990. Yemen ranks 146th out of 178 in the ‘corruption index’ issued by Transparency International.
Yemen is now devastated by civil war and foreign aggression from Saudi Arabia.
In 2012 Prince Andrew was criticised for his close friendship with the brutal and corrupt president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.
Still, in 2014, Prince Andrew was promoting B.A.E.’s jets to Saudi ally Bahrain – despite its own ongoing crackdown.
There is another opaque side of the connection between arms trade, the government and the Royals.
For example, in a 2012 Freedom of Information Act study, The Guardian revealed how “[s]enior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms companies over the past 16 years.” The Campaign Against Arms Trade has documented many of the more egregious examples of this “revolving door” – with ambassadors shielding arms companies from fraud investigations, before landing jobs with these same companies – illustrating the deep, reciprocal relationship between arms manufacturers and public representatives. It is, therefore, not too surprising to note that the arms industry receives a huge share of public research funding, despite the small proportion – barely 0.2 per cent of arms export jobs in the economy.
Westminster, in this sense, quite shamelessly sells itself to corporations.
But it was Prince Charles who inherited the ‘Royal franchise’ on relations with the Saudi kingdom from the time of his first visit to Riyadh in 1986. In the 1990s he helped to arrange Al-Yamamah II, the second phase of the arms-for-oil deal. During his tenth official visit, 17-19 February 2014, he finalised the massive Al-Salam arms deal third phase.
Continued Saturday – A conga line of bludgers: Prince Charles (part 7)
Previous instalment – A conga line of bludgers: Prince Charles (part 5)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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