Risk to British lives ends Saudi jet probe
Saudi Arabia threatened to stop sharing vital intelligence -
particularly intercepted communications between al-Qaeda members active
there - unless Britain suspended its investigation into a controversial
arms deal, The Observer can reveal.
Senior Whitehall sources said the Saudis warned they would also kick
out British military and intelligence personnel based in the country.
'They were threatening everything: intelligence, everything. The US
and the UK have got their bases in Saudi, that is their "in" to the
Middle East,' said one source. 'Essentially, the line was that British
lives could be lost if this relationship broke down. It would have been
them freezing everybody out and speaking to nobody about anything.'
The investigation into allegations that BAE Systems paid bribes to
senior Saudis was dropped last Thursday following a detailed report from
the security services. Saudi sources insisted yesterday the real reason
was that the firm - which had said it risked losing a o6bn deal for the
Saudis to buy 72 Typhoon jets - could have gone bust if it lost
However the intelligence threats appear to have been made after
months of commercial ones failed to get the desired result. One senior
intelligence expert said the Saudis' contribution to the battle against
al-Qaeda could not be underestimated: 'The Saudis are very, very
important. Mucking up that relationship is something you do not do.'
The fight against terrorism itself could have been at risk. The
Serious Fraud Office's director, Robert Wardle, confirmed yesterday in
an interview with the Financial Times that he was convinced to drop the
case by national security considerations. However, Whitehall sources
said the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, had gone further by
concluding there was little chance of bringing charges.
John Pugh, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, has argued
that the MPs could examine the audit office findings in confidence,
allowing at least some parliamentary oversight.