So here's yet another instance of shadiness to add to the BAE bribery scandal
Up until December, the British Government's Serious Fraud Office had a wide-ranging corruption investigation open into alleged kickbacks paid by defense giant BAE Systems to prominent Saudi officials -- including, allegedly, Prince Bandar, the ex-ambassador to the U.S. -- in order to secure a multi-billion arms deal. Suddenly, then-PM Tony Blair announced
an abrupt end to the SFO inquiry, citing unspecified national security concerns. And while the inquiry ended, the stain on BAE's reputation by the probe was enough to push the Justice Department into opening its own corruption investigation
of the company ahead of its scheduled purchase of a U.S. armor manufacturer.
But it may be that Blair wasn't so worried about the probe's effect on British national security. It turns out BAE is negotiating a whole new arms sale
to the Saudis -- something very lucrative for the British government. The deal would send 60 Hawk trainer jets to Saudia Arabia and establish a multi-year partnership between the Royal Air Force and its Saudi counterpart for training pilots worth "billions of pounds."
Sure enough, opposition politicians are demanding to know whether the proposed deal was a factor for now-ex-Premier Blair in shutting down SFO's inquiry.
It is believed the Saudi royal family had threatened to cancel the final tranche of the Al-Yamamah contract, a multibillion-pound order for 72 Typhoon aircraft, unless the investigation was scrapped.
Liberal Democrat MPs said yesterday that it was possible the Saudis had dangled the current deal during representations to drop the corruption inquiry.
The Labor government is, naturally, denying any connection -- sometimes bizarrely. Treasury spokesman Vince Cable remarked, "Prince Bandar was coming to Britain and landing at (chief RAF base) Brize Norton about every fortnight. They can't just have been discussing dropping the investigation." Given that the SFO alleged that BAE paid Bandar up to $2 billion in bribes -- and footed the bill for his daughter's half-million-dollar honeymoon -- Cable might not want to base an exculpation on the Saudi prince.