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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Saudis threaten Britain to stop buying arms if princes are "embarrassed" by investigation

BRITAIN’S defence industry could lose billions of pounds worth of work if the Saudi royal family is embarrassed by a Serious Fraud Office investigation into an alleged “slush fund”, write Dominic O’Connell and Paul Durman.

The Saudi authorities have warned the government that British companies will receive no further contracts from the Gulf state if any member of the royal family is embarrassed by the investigation into alleged accounting irregularities in contracts between BAE Systems, Britain’s largest defence contractor, and two travel agency firms.

BAE Systems is alleged to have footed £17m of expenses run up by Prince Turki bin Nasser, the Saudi minister responsible for negotiating arms purchases from Britain, including the cost of private jets and paying for grand suites in luxury hotels.

Documents seized by Ministry of Defence police suggest that the “slush fund” totalled £60m.