British middlemen paid £9.7m bribes to Saudis for contracts, court heard | UK News

Two men paid bribes totaling millions of pounds to a Saudi prince and other senior officials to obtain lucrative business contracts, it was learned on the day of the opening of a trial.

The Serious Fraud Office alleges that a total of £9.7 million was paid to Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and a group of senior Saudi officials to land contracts for a British subsidiary of European aerospace group Airbus.

Mark Heywood QC, for the prosecution, said that for years British intermediaries had regularly paid bribes to ‘highly placed’ Saudis through offshore companies and Swiss bank accounts in what amounted to to “deep corruption”.

Jeffrey Cook, 65, and John Mason, 79, are accused of making corrupt payments to senior Saudi leaders between 2007 and 2012 as an inducement or reward for favoring British firm GPT Special Project Management.

Cook faces a second charge of misconduct in public service between 2004 and 2008. He is accused of receiving bribes while employed at the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD). Cook and Mason have pleaded not guilty.

The trial at Southwark Crown Court in London heard that GPT had been given a key role in a long-running arms deal which was struck by the British and Saudi governments.

Heywood told Judge Bryan that the payments to Miteb and seven other Saudi officials and agents were hidden in opaque files. They did “nothing legitimate to justify the payments”, he alleged.

He said the payments were made to induce the Saudis to award GPT substantial contracts that involved the installation and maintenance of communications equipment for a Saudi military unit.

The contracts were carried out under a formal agreement between the UK and Saudi governments that dates back to the 1970s. Heywood said the Ministry of Defense had a “significant involvement” in the deal. The MoD was responsible for approving payments under it.

Cook worked for the MoD for over 30 years. The court heard that in 2006 he was helping manage military contracts under the deal.

Heywood alleged that when questions were asked around this time about the payments, Cook received bribes totaling tens of thousands of pounds and three cars, which effectively doubled his civil service salary, to divert attention from alleged bribes.

Cook then became chief executive of GPT, where he approved substantial kickbacks, according to Heywood.

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Heywood alleged the bribes were paid through an offshore company, Simec, based in the Cayman Islands, which was partly owned by Mason. He accused Mason, an accountant, of authorizing the bribes to the Saudis, adding that he and Cook had “hands on the levers of the mechanism” to make the illicit payments.

The QC told the court that the payments were presented as being made to private individuals for their advice and assistance on contracts. In reality, however, he said, the payments went to intermediaries and then passed on to senior Saudi officials to ensure contracts were and continued to be awarded to GPT.

He alleged that 12% of revenue collected by GPT “went out” to pay the Saudis in payments labeled “purchased in services”. According to Heywood, the amount paid in bribes exceeded the profits made by GPT.

The SFO opened its investigation in 2012 after two whistleblowers alleged bribes were being paid.

The trial, which is expected to last two months, is continuing.

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