David Leigh and Rob Evans / The Guardian – 2008-02-18 00:43:41
LONDON (February 15 2008) — Saudi Arabia’s rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.
Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.
Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.
He was accused in yesterday’s high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.
The threats halted the fraud inquiry, but triggered an international outcry, with allegations that Britain had broken international anti-bribery treaties.
Lord Justice Moses, hearing the civil case with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the government appeared to have “rolled over” after the threats. He said one possible view was that it was “just as if a gun had been held to the head” of the government.
The SFO investigation began in 2004, when Robert Wardle, its director, studied evidence unearthed by the Guardian. This revealed that massive secret payments were going from BAE to Saudi Arabian princes, to promote arms deals.
Yesterday, anti-corruption campaigners began a legal action to overturn the decision to halt the case. They want the original investigation restarted, arguing the government had caved into blackmail.
The judge said he was surprised the government had not tried to persuade the Saudis to withdraw their threats. He said: “If that happened in our jurisdiction [the UK], they would have been guilty of a criminal offence”. Counsel for the claimants said it would amount to perverting the course of justice.
Wardle told the court in a witness statement: “The idea of discontinuing the investigation went against my every instinct as a prosecutor. I wanted to see where the evidence led.”
But a paper trail set out in court showed that days after Bandar flew to London to lobby the government, Blair had written to the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, and the SFO was pressed to halt its investigation.
The case officer on the inquiry, Matthew Cowie, was described by the judge as “a complete hero” for standing up to pressure from BAE’s lawyers, who went behind his back and tried to secretly lobby the attorney general to step in at an early stage and halt the investigations.
The campaigners argued yesterday that when BAE failed at its first attempt to stop the case, it changed tactics. Having argued it should not be investigated in order to promote arms sales, it then recruited ministers and their Saudi associates to make the case that “national security” demanded the case be covered up.
Moses said that after BAE’s commercial arguments failed, “Lo and behold, the next thing there is a threat to national security!” Dinah Rose, counsel for the Corner House and the Campaign against the Arms Trade, said: “Yes, they start to think of a different way of putting it.” Moses responded: “That’s very unkind!”
Documents seen yesterday also show the SFO warned the attorney general that if he dropped the case, it was likely it would be taken up by the Swiss and the US. These predictions proved accurate.
Bandar’s payments were published in the Guardian and Switzerland subsequently launched a money-laundering inquiry into the Saudi arms deal. The US department of justice has launched its own investigation under the foreign corrupt practices act into the British money received in the US by Bandar while he was ambassador to Washington.
Prince Bandar yesterday did not contest a US court order preventing him from taking the proceeds of property sales out of the country. The order will stay in place until a lawsuit brought by a group of BAE shareholders is decided. The group alleges that BAE made £1bn of “illegal bribe payments” to Bandar while claiming to be a “highly ethical, law-abiding corporation”.
BAE Bought £75m Airbus for Saudi Prince
David Leigh and Rob Evans / The Guardian
LONDON ( June 15 2007) — BAE gave Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia an airliner as part of Britain’s al-Yamamah arms deal, and the arms firm is still paying the expenses of flying it, the Guardian can disclose. The top of the range, four-engine Airbus 340, worth £75m, was painted in the silver and blue colours of Bandar’s favourite American football team, the Dallas Cowboys, and is said to have been presented to him on his birthday in 1998.
According to his most recent approved biographer William Simpson, the aircraft, described as Bandar’s “private plane”, is heavily used. He says the aircraft flight log includes such destinations as St Lucia in the Caribbean, Rio de Janeiro, Casablanca, Cape Town and Honolulu.
Prince Bandar’s lawyers said last night the aircraft was purchased and fitted out by BAE for the Saudi ministry of defence “pursuant to the al-Yamamah programme”. It was part of the deal, they said, that “BAE continues to be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the plane”.
The lawyers said the plane was owned by the Saudi air force and had been used by other Saudi dignitaries including King Abdullah and the foreign minister Prince Faisal. It would be wrong to suggest it was a “corrupt gift”, the legal representatives said.
Prince Bandar denies any impropriety in allegations that he has been paid more than £1bn by BAE for his part in arranging the al-Yamamah deal, which was under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office until Tony Blair halted the inquiry on “national security” grounds.
The prince says payments consisted of Saudi official funds and were used for purposes approved by the Saudi ministry of defence. BAE also deny any impropriety, saying all payments were made with UK government “express approval”, and were confidential.
Yesterday, the attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, officially admitted that facts were withheld from the international anti-corruption watchdog, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, about Bandar payments. He said the “national security” cover-up was to prevent leaks to other foreign countries.
The OECD panel is monitoring Britain’s compliance with its anti-bribery treaty, and expressed “serious concern” after a police inquiry was halted. Lord Goldsmith says he was ignorant of the OECD cover-up move, made by Serious Fraud Office officials. Writing to Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Goldsmith said: “Indeed, I did not know the judgment the SFO had reached about this issue until it arose in the media last week.”
He added: “I gave no orders, instructions or advice to the SFO about that.” He said Jonathan Jones, his director-general, was present at the Paris meetings “to deal with … the national security aspects”. He said Mr Jones “was aware generally of what the SFO proposed to say and participated in discussions in preparation for the working group meeting”.
But he said “what level of detail to give about particular payments” never arose in those discussions
At the Paris meetings of the OECD anti-bribery panel, where prosecutors from the US department of justice were present, the SFO assistant director voluntarily “disclosed … that they were investigating a series of payments to a senior Saudi official”. But “the individual was not named, nor were details provided of the payments”.
Lord Goldsmith said: “The OECD did not ask for any more details.”
He added: “The SFO would have been cautious about unnecessarily revealing information which could have gone widely into public circulation, leading to the very damage to national security which the decision to stop the investigation was designed to avoid.”
Sir Menzies said last night: “These events get curiouser and curiouser. Major decisions … were taken by officials and not by those with direct ministerial responsibility. The plain unvarnished truth is that Britain did not reveal significant information to the OECD.”
The US department of justice is understood to be “99% certain” to open an investigation in Washington into use of the US banking system for the alleged payments.
Prince Bandar’s aircraft, which he is said to frequently lend to other members of the Saudi royal family, has often been seen by plane spotters landing at RAF Brize Norton, the airfield closest to his 2,000-acre country estate at Glympton in Oxfordshire, and at an airfield in Colorado near his US ranch at Aspen.
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