Observera att BAE finns i Sverige och är SAABs samarbetspartner i JAS GRIPEN INTERNATIONAL.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 31, 2006 WASHINGTON
As the year ends, it had been hoped that 12 months of carping and criticizing could have been ended with a column that still had the echoes of Father Christmas rattling in the chimney with some Ho, Ho, Ho's being heard.
But hope was lost when two news items appeared. They were let loose by Tony Blair, abetted, perhaps, by our own Citigroup and the FBI.
The message of 2006 from these esteemed bodies was that we should accept their doctrine of the Golden Rule: "He who has the gold makes the rules."
It started more than 19 years ago with the United States, France and
Britain competing for the sale of some 120 military aircraft to Saudi
Arabia. In 1985, the Saudis were desperate to upgrade their
defenses. The Iran-Iraq war was taking place. The Saudis were supporting
Saddam Hussein, Islamic fundamentalists were recruiting Shia citizens in
Riyad and Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in London.
Mrs. Thatcher assiduously cultivated Prince Sultan on his visits to London and developed a close relationship with King Fahd. For reasons both scandalous and self-evident, Britain won and the nuptials were celebrated on the honeymoon island of Bermuda in 1988.
The British beneficiary was the aircraft-manufacturing conglomerate British Aerospace Systems (BAE), with its benefactor being Saudi Arabia. Over the years, Britain received about $2 billion a year; the current total stands at more than $40 billion.
The deal involved selling Saudi 72 Tornado fighters, 50 Hawk jet trainers, designing and building two air bases and a host of other equipment, training and spares serviced by more than 3,000 British expats stationed in Saudi.
Payments were perpetually shrouded in secrecy. It was paid for mostly by the delivery of thousands of barrels of oil, with the money going to a dedicated Ministry of Defence account. The kickbacks started and paid for extravagant vacations for Saudi princes and their ladies, for a gilded Rolls Royce, a fleet of luxury cars, shopping sprees all over Europe and expensive apartments.
Who paid for all these treats for all those Arabs? BAE, which obtained the money by inflating the price of the Tornados by 32 percent.
It was such a sweet deal that in 1993 the Saudis purchased another 48 Tornados and again in 2005 yet another 72 planes, this time Typhoons. According to London's Ministry of Defence, in 2004 each Typhoon cost a mere $49.1 million.
By 2004, "accidentally" released stories of the lavish spending
by the Arabs and their deals with BAE created a climate where the
Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of Scotland Yard was allowed to commence a
criminal investigation into the paying of bribes. It uncovered a BAE slush
fund of $117 million. Moving at a glacier-like speed, the probe ended this
month with a belief that more than $1.9 billion had been whisked away to
the British Virgin Islands.
BAE continues to refuse to give any information about the accounts in Road Town, the island's capital of Poseidon Trading Investments and Red Diamond. BAE is equally silent about secret money coming from an anonymously owned company in Geneva, Switzerland, called Novelmight.
In September, the SFO had a breakthrough in Geneva with hopes of getting the secret BAE accounts. The Saudi embassies in Washington and London frantically lobbied the respective governments to discontinue the investigations.
Then a very senior Saudi diplomat told Prime Minister Blair that unless the SFO stopped its investigation, his country would close its embassy, reducing it to a consulate; stop sharing intelligence on al-Qaida activities with Britain and the United States; and cancel all aircraft orders with BAE.
Ten-thousand British jobs for a decade were at stake.
Blair did as he was expected -- after a visit to the White House. His attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, said that in consultation with other Cabinet members a decision had been reached that circumstances relating to the public interest "outweighed the need to maintain the rule of law."
As was inevitable, every Brit involved in the SFO has strongly denied all or any wrongdoing. The shares of BAE rose sharply on the London Stock Exchange when the news of the SFO defeat became public.
But back to the United States, Leonard Wallace, a Florida-based
consultant, has spent more than five years unraveling a $5 billion deal
involving Citigroup, a fabulously rich Saudi prince and money transfers
around the world.
Wallace believes that much of this money ended up in what the Saudi government calls "Account 98," from which payments have been made to the relatives of suicide bombers. Wallace badgered the FBI and the Department of Justice to open an investigation. In June 2005, he was told that the FBI would review his evidence.
The FBI probe lasted all of two weeks; the investigating agent told Wallace "a higher level of authority had determined that Citigroup was clean."
The Golden Rule is applied once again. But perhaps 2007 will be different with Account 98 and the BAE's secret deals given a public hearing.
Written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.