Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, formerly the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and considered a power player near the top of the thousands of members of the Royal Family, has been named in a developing British scandal. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the powerful former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. who has been one of the Bush administration's strongest allies in the Middle East, was publicly linked to a widening British corruption scandal Thursday with reports that a British aerospace company secretly transferred up to $2 billion into bank accounts at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
The new allegations point a finger directly at Bandar, the son of the Saudi crown prince and a man who has been a key ally for President Bush and his father, as well as a frequent contact of Vice President Dick Cheney. For years, the prince has been considered the most important go-between in the close and often secretive relationship between the U.S. and the royal family.
According to reports by the BBC and London's Guardian newspaper, documents show that BAE Systems made cash transfers to Bandar every three months for 10 years or more, drawn from a confidential account to which British government departments had access.
The alleged payments grew out of a 20-year, $86-billion oil-for-arms deal under which Britain supplied Saudi Arabia with 120 Tornado warplanes, Hawk training jets and other military equipment. The deal, known as Yamamah ("dove" in Arabic), was Britain's largest export contract.
Nobody is exactly shocked to learn of secret monies transferred to members of the Saudi establishment associated with a multi-billion dollar contract. There's more:
The reports suggested for the first time that Britain's Ministry of Defense had authorized the secret payments, and they also left open the possibility that payments occurred after 2001, when Britain made it illegal to bribe foreign officials.
The Yamamah contract already was the center of a government investigation. But in December, that three-year probe was halted in the interests of Britain's "national and international security" with the approval of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The new allegations reignited controversy over that decision.
So the British changed the rules in the midst of an already-approved bribery operation, one aimed at boosting exports (and presumably beating the Yanks out of the business). One can imagine the laugher in Riyadh should anyone have suggested that because the UK passed a law no further payments would be forthcoming, but please don't cancel the contract.
So America seems to have lost some business (our companies have long been forbidden to pay bribes) and is now potentially losing (or seeing weakened) a presumed friend at the Saudi Royal Court. But then again, who really knows what is really going on in the least transparent country outside of North Korea?
Hat tip: Ed Lasky