A UK court trial has revealed that the British government approved payments of up to £60 million to a future king of Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s senior officials as part of a huge arms deal and then sought to conceal them.
Ian Winter QC, a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) barrister, told Southwark crown court in London that some of the payments were made to the then Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in 1978, who later became the Saudi monarch for a decade.
Winter also told the court that internal documents recorded that the British government and Abdullah organized a deal to hide the payments, which were supposed to continue to be paid to high-ranking Saudis until 2020 -- eight years after the Serious Fraud Office began an investigation into the same payments.
The payments were made, according to the SFO, to ensure that a British firm, GPT, received lucrative contracts from the Saudi military.
The contracts awarded to GPT were part of a large arms deal managed as a formal agreement between London and Riyadh that had started in the 1970s.
Winter told the court the British government decided in 1978 that large payments had to be paid personally to Abdullah, then a prince, to ensure that the British won the original arms deal, which was called at the time “the deniable fiddle.”
This was a “fundamental necessity without which the contract would not have been awarded to the British,” the SFO barrister added.
Winter said the British government “decided that it was in the public interest, bearing in mind the value of the … contract, to enter into a binding contractual agreement with Prince Abdullah” to be given the payments.
“Both Prince Abdullah and the British government wanted a deniable fiddle that would enable the payments to be made, but which would permit them to deny their involvement through the use of a private contractor,” Winter said.
In recent years, the role of private contractor had been performed by GPT.
Winter said “very senior” officials in the British government approved every penny of the payments that were made as part of the arms deal in what at one stage was called “top cover”. This included the money paid to Abdullah, and more recently his son Prince Miteb, and other high-ranking officials. Abdullah died in 2015 after 10 years on the Saudi throne.
Winter alleged that the UK government facilitated the payments amounting to £60 million to be made from the late 1970s to 2020, when GPT’s contracts ended.