Prince Charles, ‘the dove’ and ‘the peace’
For the past fifty years, at least, the United Kingdom has been a major supplier of armaments to Saudi Arabia.
In 1964 the British Aircraft Corporation, B.A.E Systems plc, a manufacturer formed from the government-pressured merger of several large companies in 1960, conducted demonstration flights of its Lightning – the only all-British Mach 2 fighter aircraft – in Riyadh, and in 1965 Saudi Arabia signed a letter of intent for the supply of Lightning and Strikemaster aircraft as well as Thunderbird surface to air missiles. The main contract was signed in 1966 for 40 Lightnings and 25 Strikemasters, eventually raised to 40. In 1973 Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with the United Kingdom government which specified B.A.C. as the contractor for all parts of the defence system. Overall spending by the Royal Saudi Air Force was over 10 billion pounds.
Al-Yamamah, which means ‘the dove’ in Arabic, would be born out of Saudi Arabia’s need for state-of-the-art weaponry in the early 1980s as part of a rolling programme to counter ‘the growing threat from Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East’.
In the 1970s some United States defence contractors won major contracts, including 114 Northrop F-5s. In 1981 the Saudi Air Force ordered 46 F-15Cs and 16 F-15Ds, followed in 1982 by the purchase of 5 E-3A AWACS aircraft. Following these deals and partly due to pro-Israeli sentiment in the United States Congress, which would have either blocked a deal or insisted on usage restrictions for exported aircraft, Saudi Arabia turned to the United Kingdom for further arms purchases.
Britain and France were the obvious choices, with the Americans privately favouring Britain. Two rival camps were formed to fight for the deal. On the French side were two wealthy international arms dealers, Akram Ojjeh and Adnan Khashoggi. On the U.K. side was another arms dealer, Wafic Said, a Syrian-born Cambridge graduate whose name, and contacts with the Saudi royal family, were well known to British defence officials.
Mr. Said had been brought into the deal by a group of businessmen, financiers and Ministry of Defence officials known as the ‘Savoy Mafia’ because they held their meetings at the London hotel, led by Alan Curtis, the former chairman of Lotus and a long-time friend of Denis Thatcher, Prime Minister Margaret’s husband. When the Saudi business began looming large, they decided to enlist the services of Mark Thatcher, Margaret’s son; his name, they believed, would be sure to impress the Arabs.
Sources close to the ‘Savoy Mafia’ have said that Mark Thatcher was attractive to its members; they believed that the Saudis over-estimated his influence over his mother. One senior Ministry of Defence official said: “We knew he was involved, and we didn’t like it. We wanted a clear run at the Saudis and we were afraid he would get in the way.”
The fortunes of the two groups ebbed and flowed, with the French bid, offering Mirage 2000 fighters, gaining early ground. It is understood, however, that members of the U.K. team, possibly including B.A.E. executives, flew to Geneva at the end of 1983 to persuade Mr. Ojjeh to withdraw. It is not clear what form the persuasion took, but it resulted in vain attempts by an abandoned Mr. Khashoggi to get on board the British bid, and the French challenge collapsed. Mr. Said’s team is reported to have received 240 million pounds for arranging the deal.
The deal between B.A.E. and the Saudi government may well have been brokered by a range of deep politicians at Le Cercle, a foreign policy think-tank specialising in international security. Set up after the second world war, the group has members from twenty-five countries and meets at least bi-annually, in Washington, D.C.
Chairman of Le Cercle, Mr. Jonathan Aitken, a former U.K. government Cabinet Minister, and member of the Privy Council, was later convicted for perjury in related matters. Another Le Cercle member, Lord Charles Powell, was one of Margaret Thatcher’s most trusted foreign policy aides and helped broker the Saudi deal. The first stage of the deal was signed on 26 September 1985, at which time Sir Norman Lamont, formerly a Chancellor of the Exchequer, already member of Le Cercle and later a chairman of the same, had been Minister for Defence Procurement. Also involved were the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, and son of the then Saudi king, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as well as Wafic Said, who employed Mark Thatcher as a channel to his mother.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher lobbied hard for Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Since early 1984 intensive efforts had been made to sell Tornado and Hawk to the Saudis. When, in the northern autumn of 1984, they seemed to be leaning towards French Mirage fighters, Mr. Heseltine, Defence Minister, paid an urgent visit to Saudi Arabia, carrying a letter from Prime Minister Thatcher to King Fahd. In December 1984 the Prime Minister started a series of important negotiations by meeting Prince Bandar, the son of Prince Sultan. The Prime Minister met the king in Riyadh in April 1985 and in August the king wrote to her stating his decision to buy 48 Tornado IDS and 30 Hawk.
In 1985 the U.K. and Saudi governments began negotiations on a series of unprecedented arms contracts known as Al-Yamamah, ‘the dove’ in Arabic. They continue to this day. The parties signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding, but there were secret Letters of Agreement which were attached to the M.O.U. and which have never been publicly released. The deal, which involved 6 billion pounds of corrupt commissions, has been covered up by the United Kingdom for decades. The Al-Yamamah arms deal involved massive orders for British Tornado fighter planes, helicopters, tanks and ammunitions, most of which were built and supplied by B.A.E. and its predecessor British Aerospace.
In time the deal developed along three main stages. They were:
- Al-Yamamah I, finally agreed on 26 September 1985 when Michael Heseltine, the U.K. Defence Minister, and his Saudi counter-part signed a Memorandum of Understanding in London, worth between 40 billion to 50 billion pounds, for 48 Tornado IDSs, 24 Tornado ADVs, 30 Hawk training aircraft, 30 Pilatus PC-9 trainers, a range of weapons, radar, spares and a pilot-training programme.
- Al-Yamamah II, was signed on 3 July 1988 in Bermuda by the respective defence ministers for another 48 Tornado fighter jets.
- Al-Yamamah III, was signed in 2005 for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons for up to 10 billion pounds. This latest development is better known as Al-Salam, which means ‘the peace’ in Arabic. In July 2005 Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Riyadh to promote the deal.
It was to become “The dove of peace’. Obviously the Saudis had heard of – perhaps even read – Orwell!
Since the oil had to be shipped out of Saudi Arabia and sold on the world market, British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell became part of the negotiations and were asked, for a commission, to ship the hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day from the Saudi peninsula and sell it on the world market. The oil companies then deposited the proceeds from the oil sale into a specially set-up British Ministry of Defence account. From this account, B.A.E. was paid for the arms and support services. It was reported in the United Kingdom press that the U.K. government took a 2 per cent fee from the Al-Yamamah accounts, which amounted to close to US$1.6 billion over the life of the twenty-plus year contract.
The deal and the sale of Saudi oil thus generated a large fund of money in the U.K. account which was separate from the normal budget of the Saudi Ministry of Defence and Aviation. And the Saudis were apparently able to request that some of these Al-Yamamah funds be used for arms purchases from other countries.
According to reports in the United Kingdom press, an audit of the Al-Yamamah account at the Ministry of Defence, conducted by the U.K. government in 1992, was considered so secret that even members of the House of Commons on the relevant oversight committee were not allowed to see it.
The full extent of the deal has never been fully clarified, however it has been described as “the biggest [U.K.] sale ever of anything to anyone”, “staggering both by its sheer size and complexity”. It may be estimated that, at a minimum, it involves the supply and support of 96 Tornado ground attack aircraft, 24 Air Defence Variants (ADVs), 50 Hawk and 50 Pilatus PC-9 aircraft, specialised naval vessels, and various infrastructure works.
B.A.E. has approximately 4,000 employees working directly with the Royal Saudi Air Force.
There were no conditions relating to security sector reform or human rights included in the contracts. The U.K. government secretly insures B.A.E.’s deals with Saudi Arabia. This means that the government will pay B.A.E. 1 billion pounds if the Saudi regime collapses and the country cannot pay its debts to B.A.E.
The relevant contracts have been underwritten by the Export Credits Guarantee Department, a taxpayer funded insurance system. Guarantees on a contract worth up to 2.7 billion pounds were signed by the U.K. government on 1 September 2003. In December 2004 the House of Commons Trade Committee chairman, Martin O’Neill, accused the Government of being foolish for concealing the 1 billion pound guarantee that it has given to B.A.E.
Al-Yamamah and Al-Salam have been controversial for many reasons. Within weeks of the deal being signed in 1985 allegations of corruption surfaced.
From the start, the contracts were shrouded in secrecy, and although little could be substantiated, suspicions began to surface that kickbacks and bribery were central to the deal.
The public first saw some details about the unusual structure of the deal in the early 2000s 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.
Some allegations suggested that the former prime minister’s son Mark Thatcher may have been involved. Of course, he has strongly denied receiving payments or exploiting his mother’s connections in his business dealings.
In February 2001 the solicitor of a former B.A.E. employee, Edward Cunningham, notified the Serious Fraud Office of the evidence that his client was holding which related to an alleged ‘slush fund’. The S.F.O. wrote to Sir Kevin Reginald Tebbit, then Permanent Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Defence, who notified the Chairman of B.A.E. – but not the Secretary of Defence. No further action was taken until the letter was leaked to and reported on by The Guardian on 11 September 2003.
The Serious Fraud Office was reported to be considering opening an investigation into an alleged 20 million pounds slush fund on 12 September 2003, the day after The Guardian had published its slush fund story.
In May 2004 Sir Richard Evans appeared before a parliament’s defence select committee and said: “I can certainly assure you that we are not in the business of making payments to members of any government.”
In October 2004 the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Money Programme broadcast an in-depth story, including allegations in interviews with Edward Cunningham and another former insider, about the way B.A.E. alleged to have paid bribes to Prince Turki bin Nasser and ran a secret 60 million pounds slush fund in relation to the Al-Yamamah deal. Most of the money was alleged to have been spent through a front company called Robert Lee International Limited.
In November 2004 the S.F.O. made two arrests as part of the investigation. B.A.E. stated that they welcomed the investigation and “believe[d] that it would put these matters to rest once and for all.”
But the investigation would be stopped towards the end of 2006 just as Swiss banks were preparing to release details of the accounts held by middle men in the deal.
In late 2005 B.A.E. refused to comply with compulsory production notices for details of its secret “offshore payments to the Middle East”. The terms of the investigation were for a prosecution under Part 12 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
An audit into Al-Yamamah I by the National Audit Office at the Ministry of Defence was conducted by the U.K. government under Sir John Bourn, a former Comptroller and Auditor General, therefore a former head of the National Audit Office, in 1992. But it was considered so secret that even members of the Public Accounts Committee were not allowed to see it. Police, however, later calculated that more than 6 billion pounds may have been distributed in corrupt commissions, via an array of agents and middlemen. Before its ascendancy to power the Labour government promised to publish the audit report, but never did and so, as of 2006, it was the only report on the subject which is not publicly available.
Charged with running a slush fund, B.A.E.’s chief executive Mike Turner did not deny the charge. At a press conference following the revelations, he stated: “They are old allegations and they are old hat. They are history.” Turner added: “Everything we do is legal and that is all I am prepared to say. Whatever the law is, we are legal.”
Those allegations have never gone away.
Article 5 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery prohibits the decision to drop investigations into corruption from being influenced by considerations of the national economic interest or the potential effect upon relations with another state. This does not however explicitly exclude grounds of national security.
This prompted the investigation team to consider striking an early guilty plea deal with B.A.E. which would minimise the intrusiveness to Saudi Arabia – essentially that B.A.E. had paid massive bribes to Saudi royals – and would mitigate damage. The Attorney General signed off on the strategy, but briefed Prime Minister Blair, who in a reply dated 5 December 2006, urged that the case to be dropped. Prime Minister Blair wrote a “secret and personal” letter to the Attorney General to that effect.
Despite affirming his government’s commitment to bribery prosecution, he stressed the financial and counter-terrorism implications. That same day, Prince Bandar met with Foreign Office officials, after spending a week with President Jacques Chirac to negotiate a French alternative to the B.A.E. deal.
A week later, after consultation with the S.F.O., the Attorney General met with Mr. Blair to argue against dropping the case. It was Blair’s opinion that “Any proposal that the investigation be resolved by parties pleading guilty to certain charges would be unlikely to reduce the offence caused to the Saudi Royal Family, even if the deal were accepted, and the process would still drag out for a considerable period.”
On 13 December 2006 the Director of the S.F.O. wrote to the Attorney General to inform him that the S.F.O. was dropping the investigation, “real and imminent damage to the U.K. national and international security and would endanger the lives of U.K. citizens and service personnel.”
On 14 December 2006 the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith announced that the investigation was being discontinued on grounds of public interest. The 15-strong investigation team had been ordered to turn in their files two days before. The statement in the House of Lords read: “The Director of the Serious Fraud Office has decided to discontinue the investigation into the affairs of BAE Systems plc as far as they relate to the Al Yamamah defence contract. This decision has been taken following representations that have been made both to the Attorney General and the Director concerning the need to safeguard national and international security. It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest. No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest.”
Prime Minister Blair justified the decision by saying “Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for our country in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East, in terms of helping in respect of Israel and Palestine. That strategic interest comes first.”
Jonathan Aitken, a former Tory government minister and convicted perjurer, who was connected with the deals in the 1980s, said that even if the allegations against B.A.E. were true, it was correct to end the investigation to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Mark Pieth, director of anti-fraud section at the O.E.C.D., on behalf of the United States, Greece, Japan, France, Sweden and Switzerland, addressed a formal complaint letter before Christmas 2006 to the Foreign Office, seeking explanation as to why the investigation had been discontinued. Transparency International and Labour MP Dr. Roger Berry, chairman of the Commons Quadripartite Committee, urged the government to reopen the corruption investigation.
In March 2007 the O.E.C.D. sent their inspectors to the U.K. to establish the reasons behind the dropping of the investigation. The O.E.C.D. also wished to establish why the U.K. had yet to bring a prosecution since the incorporation of the O.E.C.D.’s anti-bribery treaty into U.K. law.
At the end of November 2006, a U.K. newspaper revealed that Saudi Arabia had given Britain ten days to suspend the S.F.O. investigation into the country’s transactions or they would take the 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 U.K. 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.
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 has 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.
On 6 February 2015 Prince Charles started an official tour of Gulf countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Jordan. On 12 February the Prince visited Qatar and the U.A.E., where he meet the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the U.A.E. Armed Forces, his highness General Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayyan.
On 12 February 2015 Prince Charles flew to Saudi Arabia for a two day staying. This was Charles’ twelfth visit. He met senior members of the Saudi Royal Family.
The return to the region, just one year after Charles’s last tour, displays the significance the U.K. government places on its alliance with key partners in the area. Prince Charles previous visit to Saudi Arabia only 11 months before was explicitly requested by the U.K. government to help ‘enhance military links’. These associations strengthen the long-standing relationship which exists among the Royal Family and the ‘ruling families’ in the Gulf.
The Prince’s twelfth official visit to Saudi Arabia is a remarkable seal of legitimacy not only to one of the most repressive regimes in the world, but also one which is notorious for exporting the religious extremism that Charles finds so “frightening” – as he anxiously declared.
The Royal Family claim to be apolitical, the U.K. government says the same thing, and – of course – every other subject-government, such as the Australian, would repeat the story, but those of Prince Charles, and for that matters of Prince Andrew and Prince William, are not apolitical actions. They are political actions which squarely place the interests of private weapons companies before human rights – and they are a shameful international representation of the United Kingdom.
For unveiling a banner before Buckingham Palace to expose the Royal Family’s support for arms sales and human rights abuse, the campaigners were threatened with arrest.
To be continued. Tomorrow . . . Charles of Arabia
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at email@example.com