The outcome of a US criminal investigation into alleged bribery in a £43bn arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia was watered down following a secret lobbying campaign, according to a leaked document.
The confidential memo seen by the Guardian provides a rare insight into behind-the-scenes negotiations between an American law firm hired by a Saudi prince and the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
The discussions took place in the runup to the DoJ’s completion in 2010 of an investigation into the deal between Saudi Arabia and Britain’s biggest arms firm, BAE.
The Washington-based law firm boasted in the memo that it had wrung a string of concessions from investigators that led to the removal of potentially embarrassing details from an official document announcing their conclusions.
The memo sheds new light on one of the most contentious arms deals in history, and underlines the lengths taken to prevent disclosure of any material that might damage the west’s relationship with the Saudis.
That relationship comes under the spotlight again this week with the visit to Britain of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is due to meet Theresa May in Downing Street. In November he initiated what has been portrayed as a drive to recoup billions of dollars accrued through corruption.
At least one prince alleged to have accepted a bribe in the arms deal was among 30 senior Saudis held under house arrest at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
Britain and Saudi Arabia have long sought to keep secret details of the arms deal known as al-Yamamah, which involved planes and other military equipment.
The leaked memo shows how a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, hired a lobbying firm run by a former head of the FBI, Louis Freeh. According to the memo, the prince was a “key target” of the DoJ investigation after the Guardian revealed he had allegedly received more than £1bn in secret payments from BAE. (end of excerpt)
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