Margaret Thatcher promised Saudi Arabia secrecy ahead of a £43 billion arms deal thought to have been blighted by corruption, newly-released documents reveal.
The papers uncover correspondence between Saudi and British public figures and officials involved in the Yamamah deal brokered during the mid-1980s. As part of this clandestine arrangement, now-deceased Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government wanted Saudi Arabia to purchase Tornado and Hawk jets.
Many state documents relating to this era have been withheld or redacted, reportedly to avoid embarrassment.
In a letter from January 2, 1985, Thatcher apologized to Saudi ruler King Fahd for criticism which had appeared in the British press, saying she was happy that “relations between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia are warm and friendly.”
“I attach the very highest importance to maintaining and improving them, and I am convinced that the possibilities for cooperation between our two governments and peoples are very great indeed,” she wrote.
“I am particularly encouraged by Your Majesty’s welcome assurance that British press reporting on Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to influence our bilateral relations.”
Thatcher assured King Fahd at the time that he could be “confident of our complete discretion.”
In another document, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials noted that Thatcher demanded there be “no leaks from the British side.”
On August 23, 1985, as the Yamamah deal was close to being finalized, Thatcher wrote to Fahd again saying, “Your Majesty proposed that the contract agreement should be between our two governments.
“I warmly support this proposal which I see as offering the opportunity develop still closer relations between our two countries at government level”.
During the 1980s, the Yamamah deal was blighted by allegations of corruption, with massive bribes allegedly being offered by arms firm BAE to secure the contract. The arms giant allegedly offered these bribes to a number of actors involved.
In 2008, the Blair government halted an investigation into the allegations after pressure from arms firms and the Saudi state. They were being investigated by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office at the time.
In 2010, BAE Systems paid £300 million (US$468 million) in fines, ending an investigation by US and UK authorities into bribery allegations concerning arms deals with Gulf States.
Andrew Feinstein, a former South African MP and arms trade expert, said the released documents confirmed what he had long suspected.
“My initial response is that it confirms everything we know, i.e. that the UK bent over backwards to accommodate the Saudis, leading to the payment, according the Met police, of around £6 billion in commissions,” he told RT on Thursday.
Feinstein, who authored ‘The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade’ in 2011, said these payments are widely interpreted as bribes.
“These went to a variety of Saudis, intermediaries and even according to many sources, £12 million to Mark Thatcher.”
Mark Thatcher is the son of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher.