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UK tries to block US bribes inquiry into Saudi arms deal - report

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, Sept 21, IRNA
UK-Saudi Bribes-US Inquiry
British ministers were reported Friday to be refusing to cooperate with a sensitive US criminal inquiry into allegations of bribes being paid in the UK's biggest-ever arms export deal with Saudi Arabia.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has not yet reacted to an official US request for mutual legal assistance made two months ago for files from an investigation by the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) that was stopped last December, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Legal cooperation is normally automatic between the two major allies, but Smith was said to have refused to pass the request onto the SFO. The BBC reported that the Home Office was still considering the request.

The US Justice Department launched an anti-corruption probe into the UK's biggest defence manufacturer BAE Systems, after reports that payments of over Pnds 1 billion (Dlrs 2 bn) were made to former Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Washington.

Last year, the SFO was forced to halt a criminal investigation into bribery claims surrounding the al-Yamamah deal, which was originally signed in the 1980s, after Prime Minister Tony Blair said it threatened the UK's national interests with Saudi Arabia.

The Guardian reported Liberal Democrat frontbench spokesman Norman Lamb saying there was "no justification for the delaying" in handing over the information to US authorities.

"One is left with the suspicion that by refusing to cooperate, the government is more interested in securing arms deals than in the pursuit of justice. It makes a mockery of the government's assertion that they are robustly tackling corruption," Lamb said.

Earlier this week, the UK government confirmed that it had finally sealed a new deal with Saudi Arabia to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, in a contract that is estimated to be worth up to Pnds 20 billion, including training and maintenance.

The completion of the new deal, which replaces Tornados and Hawk fighters supplied under al-Yamamah, comes ahead of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia making a state visit to the UK next month.


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