The deal was done through GPT Special Project Management, a subsidiary of Airbus UK. Then in 2012, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) began an investigation into allegations GPT used fourteen million pounds worth of illicit payments and gifts in order to finalise the deal, suspicious payments are alleged to have been made in 2007 and 2010. Reports say a formal request for prosecution by the Government’s Attorney General’s Office (AGO) was made by the SFO 21 months ago but a decision on whether these proceedings will happen has not been made, resulting in concerns from campaigners.
Speaking to express.co.uk, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “I think it’s concerning because it’s been going on for so long. I think it’s concerning because there’s been a long history of serious corruption allegations when it comes to the UK arms industry with Saudi Arabia.
“There’s been a long history regarding the multi-billion pound fighter jets deals which happened in the 1980s. We’ve already seen the influence which the Saudi royal family have in UK politics in the past when Tony Blair intervened to stop a Serious Fraud Office investigation into corruption.”
A 2007 BBC probe found Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who negotiated a £40billion arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia continued to receive hundreds of millions of pounds for decades afterwards from BAE System, who insisted the acting lawfully whilst the Prince denied the payments were improper.
Documents released in the High Court in December 2007 revealed Mr Blair wrote to then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith urging him to terminate an investigation into a deal between the Saudis and BAE.
Mr Smith added: “To see signs that this process could be getting repeated is very concerning because we know that the British Government is prepared to do all that it can to maximise arms exports to the brutal Saudi regime. To a lot of people, this is looking very concerning. There’s no doubt corruption investigations can get very complicated but there’s no reason why it should’ve taken eight years to investigate this. “
“I found the way Geoffrey Cox handled it very evasive. It felt like he was doing everything he could to avoid answering questions, he would always refer to the ongoing investigation but would not confirm or deny whether the Serious Fraud Office had asked him to move the investigation on.
“I think it was characteristic of the relationship between the Government and the Saudi regime, which has been incredibly damaging. Not just to the UK, but to people in Saudi Arabia by trying to entrench one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. And particularly to the people of Yemen, who have borne the brunt of brutal Saudi bombardment for five years.”
Mr Cox was replaced as Attorney General by Suella Braverman in the recent reshuffle.
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On the new appointment, Mr Smith said: “Unfortunately, we don’t hold high hopes for the new attorney general, the early signs are not good, we know that she has been particularly critical of judicial review, seems to be very critical of courts as a whole actually and seems to be into nonsense conspiracy theories about cultural marxists running the world and this type of thing.
“I don’t necessarily believe she’s going to anymore likely to stand up to the Saudi regime than her predecessor was. Now, the UK does talk a good game on corruption, but words are easy, it’s not words that matter and if the UK is going to have any credibility on the world stage when it comes to these matters then it has to actually pursue them, it has to have explanations for the decision it’s making.”
British arms deals with the Saudi regime have been under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Riyadh is fighting in the War in Yemen against Iranian backed Houthi rebels, the war has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people and displaced three million.
In July 2019, the High Court ruled British Arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful after three judges concluded ministers had unlawfully signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians.
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Accusing arms dealers of caring more about profits than human rights, Mr Smith explained: “Airbus has been prone to serious accusations of corruption, in fact they had a settlement with the Serious Fraud Office, a matter of weeks ago, over a series of different arms deals. So, I’d be particularly skeptical about Airbus, but I’d also be particularly skeptical about what action the UK Government might take if it feels it might jeopardise its relations with the Saudi regime.”
In January, Airbus UK entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the SFO agreed to pay a fine and costs amounting to €991m (£776million) in the UK and €3.6billion ($2.8billion) in resolutions involving authorities in the US and France over allegations that the company had used external consultants to bribe customers to buy its civilian and military aircrafts.
A spokesman for Airbus said: “We are continuing to cooperate with the SFO on the GPT investigation. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”
Mr Smith said the situation with arms deal undermined Britain’s reputation around the world: The Saudi regime by any standard is among the most authoritarian, brutal and oppressive regimes anywhere in the world.
“The Government has given unprecedented support for decades now. That’s not just happened under Conservative government, it’s happened under Labour governments, it’s happened under coalition governments.
“This has only got worse during the war in Yemen. None of this started with Yemen, it goes back decades. The UK Government will always talk about it’s commitment to human rights, it’s commitment to democracy while supporting some of the least democratic and most abusive regimes anywhere in the world and that’s been none more solvent than with the Saudi regime.”
Since the war began, the UK has licensed more than £5billion worth of arms to the Saudis.
When approached for comment by express.co.uk, the AGO said the SFO investigation was ongoing and they could not comment as a result.
The Saudi Embassy in the United Kingdom and Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to respond to requests for comment.
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