Al-Yamamah arms deal

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Event.png Al-Yamamah arms deal (fraud,  arms deal) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Al yamamah.jpg
DateSeptember 1985 - August 2006
Interest ofSavoy Mafia
DescriptionA complex series of multi billion dollar arms for oil deals set up under the government of Margaret Thatcher, involving a bunch of deep state arms dealers, and her son - who earned £12 million. Fines levied have been in the hundreds of millions, while kickbacks amount to billions.

The Al-Yamamah arms deal was a huge UK-Saudi arms deal. It was reported in the British press and later confirmed that the UK government took a 2% fee from the Al-Yamamah accounts, which would amount to over $1.5 billion over the life of the 20-plus year contract.[1]

The Deal

The Deal had 3 main tranches:

  1. Al-Yamamah I, 1985, signed by Michael Heseltine (Defence Secretary), worth between £40 billion to £50 billion, involving 72 Tornado planes, 30 Hawk trainer jets and 30 other trainer planes[2]
  2. Al-Yamamah II, 1993, for another 48 Tornado fighter jets
  3. Al-Yamamah III, 2005, 72 Eurofighter Typhoons for up to £10bn[3]

The deal included an insurance for BAE Systems so that the UK government would pay in case the Saudi Arabian government collapse and was unable to pay its debts.[4]


John Cuckney reputedly "laid the groundwork for the Al-Yamamah deal, although he left in 1985".[5]

The deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi Arabian government may well have been brokered by a range of deep politicians at Le Cercle. Chairman of Le Cercle, Jonathan Aitken, was later convicted in this connection. Another Cercle member, Lord Charles Powell, was one of her Margaret Thatcher's most trusted foreign policy aides and helped broker the deal.[6] The first stage of the deal was signed on 26 September, 1985, at which time Norman Lamont (another Cercle member, later a Chairman of the same) had been UK Minister for Defence Procurement for less than a month.[7] Also involved were the Saudi Ambassador to the US, and son of the Saudi King, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as well as Wafic Saïd, who used Mark Thatcher as a channel to his mother Margaret Thatcher.[8]


An audit into Al-Yamamah I by the National Audit Office at the British Ministry of Defence was conducted by the UK government under Sir John Bourn[8] in 1992, but was considered so secret that even members of the Public Accounts Committee were not allowed to see it. Before its ascendancy to power, the Labour government promised to publish this report, but never did[9] and so as of 2006, it was the only report they have ever produced which is not publicly available.[10]

Charged with running a slush fund, BAE Systems' chief executive Mike Turner didn't deny the charge. At a press conference following the revelations, he stated, "They are old allegations and they are old hat. They are history." Turner added, "Everything we do is legal and that is all I am prepared to say. Whatever the law is, we are legal."[9]

Legal proceedings

Different jurisdictions have tried to apply different laws, with varying success.

UK Investigations

Cercle member (later chairman) and UK Minister for Defence Procurement, Jonathan Aitken played a key role in setting up Al-Yamamah II. He was imprisoned in 1993 for letting the Saudis pick up his tab at the Paris Ritz.[9]

Mark Thatcher's role

In 1994 Tam Dalyell charged in parliament that Mark Thatcher collected a £12 million commission from the deal. The government did not confirm or deny it, but the authorities declined to investigate.[8] Geoffrey Gilson suggests a figure of $18 million.[11]

SFO Investigation

A November 2004 UK investigation by the Serious Fraud Office was stopped towards the end of 2006 just as Swiss banks were preparing to release details of the accounts held by middle men in the deal. In 2006 Saudi Arabia stated that they would stop supplying the UK with intelligence about al-Qaida terrorists if the investigation was continued, and were given two weeks to shut it down as SFO investigators were told that they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they carried on. Tony Blair wrote a "secret and personal" letter to the Attorney General, Peter Goldsmith and the investigation was stopped.[9][12][2] In 2008 the decision to drop the investigation was ruled illegal[13] but by 2013, the SFO reported having "lost" some of the material relevant to the investigation.[14]

US investigation

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, (Saudi ambassador to the US for 20 years, had been directly collecting more than £100 million a year from the deal through Riggs Bank in Washington D.C.[15] Since the payments had been channelled through a US bank, the US Justice Department decided to launch its own investigation.[12] By 2009, Prince Bandar (later to become Director of the Saudi Intelligence agency) had hired Louis Freeh (former FBI Director) to represent him on legal matters surrounding the deal.[16]

In 2010, BAE Systems pled guilty to a United States court to charges of false accounting and making misleading statements in connection with the sales.[17]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Closing the Stable Doorwebpage6 March 2007Richard Donkin