A former British Secretary for
Defence has admitted that Britain's arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been founded on bribery.
The current Government is about to finalise the sales of a further £40bn worth of arms sales to Saudi, adding to the £50bn worth already completed in recent years.
Lord Gilmour, who was Minister and then Secretary of State for
Defence in the Seventies, told BBC TWO's
Newsnight: "You either got the business and bribed
or you didn't bribe and didn't get the business."
Newsnight revealed a number of hitherto secret government
memos in which diplomats and arms sales officials discussed how best
to channel the commissions to 'fixers' in Saudi. They refer to 'the
One confidential memo, from the head of defence sales, Harold
Hubert, in 1972, speaks of using a company "to provide quasi-government oversight as well as passing on the douceurs".
Newsnight notes the Oxford English Dictionary defines a "douceur" as "a gratuity or 'tip'; a bribe".
Professor Mark Phythian of the University of Wolverhampton, who has written extensively about the trade, said: "I've never seen this expressed so openly before. I'm surprised it got past the censors."
Lord Gilmour said: "In those days you either went along with how the Saudis behaved
or what they wanted or you let the US and France have all the business.
it would have been quite excessively puritanical for us to say 'oh no we
won't have anything to do with bribes or douceurs, we'll let the
other countries get the money'.
"It's not something you emblazon about or are particularly proud of. It just happens to be the terms of trade."
Questioned about the legality of 'douceurs' he said: "If
you're paying bribes to high up people in the government (of Saudi)
the fact that it's illegal in Saudi law doesn't mean very much."
Nicholas Gilby of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said the Seventies documents and Lord Gilmour's comments expose as "totally false" an MoD claim to a Common Select Committee in 2003 that the Defence Sales Organisation had never had any role in bribery.
He called on the Government to reveal the truth about its massive Al Yamamah arms deals with Saudi.
A memorandum of understanding for a new Al Yamamah
tranche worth £40bn was signed by the then Defence
Secretary John Reid last December. Its confirmation is thought to
The 1992 National Audit Office report into the Al Yamamah deals is the only such
report to have been presented to Parliament and has still not been made public.
Professor Phythian said the secrecy "suggests it's protecting members of
the Saudi royal family."