Friday, December 15, 2006

Shaikh Yamani and Shut Your Mouth!

DOES YAMAMA KNOW YOU'RE HERE? Reports claimed Margaret Thatcher's son Mark did well with go-between Wafic Said in Saudi arms deals. Here he is accepting a lift downtown to help police with their inquiries - but this was in South Africa two years ago, over his involvment in funding aborted Equatorial Guinea coup plot.

The long-running investigation into the multi-billion pound al Yamama arms deal with Saudi Arabia has been stopped because the Saudi rulers threatened to pull out of a deal to purchase 72 Eurofighter jets from BAE Systems, putting millions in profits and thousands of jobs at risk; but also because the British and US governments are hoping the Saudis - and arch rivals the Iranian regime -can help pull them out of the bloody Iraq quagmire.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith insisted the decision was made in the interests of national security and that economic and commercial interests played no part. In a statement to the House of Lords, amid claims the Government was hiding bad news on the day Lord Stevens released his report in to the death of Princess Diana, Goldsmith said the Prime Minister and other ministers were concerned.

"They have expressed the clear view that continuation of the investigation would cause serious damage to UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic co-operation, which is likely to have seriously negative consequences for the UK public interest in terms of both national security and our highest priority foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. ..The heads of our security and intelligence agencies and HM Ambassador to Saudi Arabia share this assessment."

The announcement followed reports that the Serious Fraud Office had uncovered details of a "slush fund" used to pay Saudi dignitaries for contracts, followed by reports that British Aerospace(BAE) feared the Saudis were preparing to switch the Eurofighter contract to France. BAE shares fell by 10% in the last month, and there was uncertainty for the jobs of 9,000 workers at BAE's aircraft division in Warton, Lancashire.

The Serious Fraud Office says: "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."

Lord Goldsmith said there were serious doubts over whether the investigation into the £40 billion contract secured by Margaret Thatcher, would result in a successful prosecution. It would also have taken another 18 months to bring to a conclusion, he said. "I consider, having carefully examined the present evidence, that there are obstacles to a successful prosecution so that it is likely that it would not in the end go ahead," he said.

Al Yamama (the Dove!) has been the subject of controversy for many years, from several points of view (including those of US and French competitors).
How come Saudi Arabia needed such a huge military expenditure, and was reportedly paying well over the odds for Tornado fighters and other hardware? (Payment was later made in crude oil). Who was the weaponry to be used against? How much of the commissions paid to prominent Saudis was repaid to company bosses in Britain (though these may have benefitted more by the excess charging), or go-betweens and politicians? How much went into Swiss bank accounts, and where might it go after that?

Labour MP Jeff Rooker passed on to Margaret Thatcher a copy of a memorandum, dated 2nd May 1989, which he had received, talking about planes with hardened nose cones, such as might be used to drop nuclear bombs. The memo, origin unknown, referred to "constant phone calls between Mrs. T and King Fahd and Sir Peter Levene and Prince Sultan", (Levene made the crude oil arrangement) and to an alleged " huge sum" paid to the Conservative Party.
Lobster magazine no.26 (Dorrel issue) had the memorandum.

Because taxpayers money was involved in backing British Aerospace the National Audit Office was asked to produce a report on al Yamama in 1992. But this was shelved before the general election, and despite Labour promises back then, it has never been published. The issue was raised in the House of Commons a few years ago:

Al-Yamamah Arms Agreement
Harry Cohen: To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how many copies of the 1992 National Audit Office report about the Al-Yamamah arms agreement were produced. [35029]
Mr. Alan Williams: 10 copies of the 1992 National Audit Office report on the Saudi Arabian Airforce Project—known as project Al-Yamamah—were produced.
The report looked at the use of taxpayers' money by the Ministry of Defence in relation to the project. It referred to confidential arrangements between the governments of the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The report was not published because publication would have breached that pledge of confidentiality.
13 Feb 2002 : Column 403W
The then PAC chairman (now Lord Sheldon) was quoted as saying after he and the then senior Conservative member of the PAC had considered the report in private in February 1992:
"I did an investigation and I find no evidence that the [MOD] made improper payments. I have found no evidence of fraud or corruption. The deal . . . complied with Treasury Approval and the rules of government accounting."

Some people remembering the late Robin Cook's pledge that Labour would give an "ethical dimension" to Britain's foreign policy may ask how this squares with competing to supply top-shelf military hardware to a reactionary dictatorship, and covering up massive corruption in the course of it?
The answer is that Robin Cook was shoved aside from interfering with the profitable arms trade. So far as the government was concerned his "ethical" suggestion was dead before he was.

Perhaps the most sensational allegation made about the Yamama deal is that some of the money went via Saudi accounts to al Qaieda and Osama Bin Laden, whether by way of the Bin Laden family contracting business (whose partners at one time included George W.Bush) or through certain "charities" patronised by Saudi princes.

If true, (and allowing for inventive and disgruntled -e.g. US - competitors) that would add bitter irony to the situation now, when, having used the "War on Terror" to land their troops in the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain and the United States may be hoping the Saudi regime and the Iranian ayatollahs will be persuaded to help them find an exit strategy. This would involve Iran being given a field of influence over the Shias in southern Iraq (where British troops are stationed) while the Saudis, as they have already said, would be willing to step in as "protectors" for the Sunni population.

The only people who might take exception to this are the Iraqis who don't want to see their country carved up, or its oil wealth appropriated by Western companies. They might even want a secular, democratic united Iraq in which they can rebuild and make progress. That is why they are being lacerated by sectarian killings, bombings, ethnic cleansing of mixed areas and shadowy but well-armed death squads. For whose benefit?

The British government has evidently decided to try and avoid upsetting the Saudi rulers, or those here who have done well for themselves out of the oil for arms racket, so that it can get on with the dirty game. But it may all be blown whatever the law says.

See also: BAE inquiry decision may face legal challenge,,1973073,00.html

A historical overview of Saudi Arabia and the arms trade:

The late Paul Foot's comments on al Yamama and Jonathan Aitkin in a book review:

Some amusing stuff on Mark Thatcher:


Shaikh Yamani was Saudi oil minister whose prominence in OPEC back in the 1970s led to various puns and jokes like the one I've used in the headline (actually taken from a humourous chorus performed in Lancaster in about 1973 by a group including Nigel Gray and Dr.David Craig, to whom probably goes the copyright). I hope the ex-minister himself will forgive me; so far as I know he is not involved in any of this business.

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