So says the Guardian, which has had a sneak peek at the evidence compiled by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in its lengthy investigation of vast corruption in a decades-long arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the Anglo-American arms merchant, BAE, Tony Blair's favorite war profiteer. The SFO's probe was preemptorily quashed by Blair's ever quiescent attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, last December. Now the Guardian has learned that BAE paid a quarterly bribe to Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud – long-time ambassador to the United States, and so intimate with America's ruling family that the president nicknamed him "Bandar Bush." BAE was plying Prince Bush with $30 million every quarter – for ten years. Nice work if you can get it.
The background to this sordid business can be found in a piece I did last year: Last Bad Deal Gone Down: War Profits Trump the Rule of Law. A brief excerpt below sets the scene:
Slush funds, oil sheikhs, prostitutes, Swiss banks, kickbacks, blackmail, bagmen, arms deals, war plans, climbdowns, big lies and Dick Cheney – it's a scandal that has it all: corruption and cowardice at the highest levels, a festering canker at the very heart of world politics, where the War on Terror meets the slaughter in Iraq. Yet chances are you've never heard about it – even though it happened just a few days ago. The fog of war profiteering, it seems, is just as thick as the fog of war.
But here's how the deal went down. On Dec. 14, the UK Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith (Pete Goldsmith as was, before his longtime crony Tony Blair raised him to the peerage), peremptorily shut down a two-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into a massive corruption case involving Britain's biggest military contractor and members of the Saudi royal family. SFO bulldogs had just forced their way into the holy of holies of the great global backroom – Swiss bank accounts – when Pete pulled the plug. Continuing with the investigation, said His Lordship, "would not be in the national interest."
It certainly wasn't in the interest of BAE Systems, the British arms merchant which has become one of the top 10 U.S. military firms as well, through its voracious acquisitions during the profitable War on Terror – including some juicy hook-ups with the Carlyle Group, the former corporate crib of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and still current home of the family fixer, James Baker. BAE director Phillip Carroll is also quite at home in the White House inner circle: a former chairman of Shell Oil, he was tapped by George II to be the first "Senior Adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Oil" in those heady "Mission Accomplished" days of 2003. BAE has allegedly managed to "disappear" approximately $2 billion in shavings from one of the largest and longest-running arms deals in history – the UK-Saudi warplane program known as "al-Yamanah" (Arabic for "the dove"). Al-Yamanah has been flying for 18 years now, with periodic augmentations, pumping almost $80 billion into BAE's coffers, with negotiations for $12 billion in additional planes now nearing completion. SFO investigators had followed the missing money from the deal into a network of Swiss bank accounts and the usual Enronian web of offshore front companies.
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Bandar Bush was instrumental in setting up the deal in the first place, the Guardian notes, wheeling and dealing with Maggie Thatcher from his Washington redoubt. The prince – one of the leading figures in perhaps the most repressive and extremist Islamic state on earth – has continued to be influential with the White House even after stepping down as ambassador in 2005. (He's now head of the repressive state's security organs.) He's also played a key role in L'il Bush's political career – making a deal to cut oil prices before the 2004 vote and publicly endorsing his "brother" in the election. One cannot but speculate on how much of the dirty BAE money was used to grease the overt and covert ops of the Bush political machine. According to the Guardian, Bandar's BAE bribes were drawn from BAE's slush fund and deposited in Bandar's account in Washington's Riggs Bank – the notorious money-laundering outfit used for decades by American and foreign elites to wash their filthy lucre. L'il Bush's uncle, Jonathan Bush, was a top executive at Riggs Bank when it was hit with a record $25 million fine in 2004 for skirting money-laundering laws, as David Sirota – and then the Washington Post – reported.
When questioned by the Guardian about the payments, BAE's defense was bold – and probably accurate: "We have little doubt that among the reasons the attorney general considered the case was doomed was the fact that we acted in accordance with ... the relevant contracts, with the approval of the government of Saudi Arabia, together with, where relevant, that of the UK [Ministry of Defence]." Goldsmith's office offered a similar assertion: "There were major legal difficulties [with the SFO investigation] given BAE's claim that the payments were made in accordance with the agreed contractual arrangements."
In other words, the bribes to Saudi royals were probably built into the contract from the beginning, in secret codicils that would have required the approval of UK government official for two decades, encompassing the years of Thatcher, John Major (who served as head of Carlyle's European operations from 2001 to 2004) and Tony Blair. Thus, even though such payments are illegal under UK law – and have been outlawed in the United States since 1977, as the Guardian notes – BAE can ultimately point to government sanction for its corruption...in the all-absolving name of "national security," of course.
In a real sense, however, this story is not even news: "Bush Crony Takes Bribes in Oil and Weapons Deal." What's so unusual about that? It is, in fact, the way the world is run, and has been run since time immemorial. The elite insiders grease each other up like swingers at an orgy, wriggling and wallowing in the blood that lubricates their fortunes. Then they step out into the light of day – in thousand-dollar suits, in princely robes – and mouth pieties for the rubes and suckers they despise. The conclusion of the December piece on the BAE bagmen still applies:
Lord knows – and Lords know – that unseemly accommodations sometimes have to be made in this world, especially in geopolitics. A wink here, a little baksheesh there between unsavoury characters are often better than, say, launching a war of aggression and murdering more than half a million innocent people to achieve your political and commercial ends. But in the BAE case, as in so much else in politics, it is the hypocrisy that rankles most. Western governments obviously believe they must give guns and bribes to extremist tyrants in order to obtain the oil that keeps their own nations in such disproportionate clover – but they lack the guts to say so in plain language, dressing up this ugly business with meaningless trumpery about freedom, peace and security.
Are they trying to mask their own cynicism – or protect the tender sensibilities of their electorates, who might prefer sugared lies to acknowledgements of the dirty deals that undergird their way of life?
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