Sunday, June 10, 2007

Al-Yamamah arms deal blowing up in Tony Blair's face!

I have been watching the latest developments with some interest.

The Al-Yamamah arms deal was signed when Margaret Thatcher was still in power, and things were different then.

It appears that part of the deal was that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia would get "commission" for "negotiating" the contract.

He insists he has done "nothing wrong" and that is of course true as far as it goes. I suspect he has broken no Saudi law, and indeed at the time of the negotiations, no British one either.

The problems are of course twofold. Firstly it is now illegal to make these sorts of payments in the UK (though they have been made in the USA, hence the Department of Justice investigation) and secondly no matter what the state of the law is, these sorts of payments are politically unacceptable both here, in the USA and in Saudi Arabia.

It therefore comes as no surprise to me to hear that the Sunday Times now reports that Prince Bandar personally lobbied Tony Blair to get the Serious Fraud Office investigation dropped.

The case goes from bad to worse. Firstly we passed a law, which we did need at some point to pass, but without due consideration to historic considerations, then we instigated an investigation, which Whitehall must have known was going to expose the way these sorts of deals have been done in the past, and after all that we have had the most botched attempt to get out of the always very obvious implications of all this.

Deals used to be done this way. It is wrong now, and ought to have been wrong then, though it serves no useful purpose to view yesterdays world through today's eyes. Ultimately the French would have done a similar deal if we had not, and the USSR would of course have given them arms for free for influence.

We are where we are, and we are there because this government has no sense of history and no sense of how to move forward with care. When it started to blunder into the Al-Yamamah deal however the die was cast, and it now looks sordid to try and get out of it this way. If they had done this 5 years ago the story would have died. Not so now, Tony Blair has no political capital left to spend and he would have been better off letting the situation run it's course.

Meanwhile the Guardian has this one what Lord Goldsmith may or may not have known.

For more on the Al-Yamamah deal, see here.

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