Two UK middlemen paid £9.7mn in bribes to top Saudi military officials to secure contracts for a British subsidiary of the European aerospace group Airbus, the opening day of a trial unveiled.
According to the Serious Fraud Office, Jeffrey Cook, former managing director of the firm GPT Special Project Management, and John Mason, former financial officer at two of GPT’s subcontractors, have funneled bribes to Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and a group of senior Saudi officials between 2007 and 2012 to favor GPT.
Cook also faces a second charge of misconduct in public office between 2004 and 2008. He is accused of taking kickbacks while he was an employee of MoD. Both Cook and Mason have pleaded not guilty.
At the start of the trial, held at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday, the prosecution barrister Mark Heywood QC said the case concerned “deep corruption in overseas defense contracts.”
British middlemen for years had regularly paid bribes to “highly placed” Saudis through offshore companies and Swiss bank accounts,” Heywood said.
He said the payments to Miteb and other Saudi officials and agents were made to induce them to give GPT substantial contracts that entailed installing and maintaining communications equipment for a Saudi military unit.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) had a “significant involvement” in the agreement between the British and Saudi governments, Heywood said.
“In a single word, the case is one of ‘bribery’,” he said.
London and Washington have had close relations with the ruling class in the Arab country throughout the years, selling large amounts of weapons and military equipment to Riyadh in spite of its devastating war on neighboring Yemen, which has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
For their part, people of Saudi Arabia have for decades suffered institutionalized corruption and nepotism among the rulers of their country. The absence of any public or parliamentary oversight, particularly over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s imprudent decisions is seen as posing a big danger to the country’s wealth and plunging it into further poverty.