Thursday. 23 October 2014

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Saudi defence deal is lucrative – and super-sensitive

Saudi Arabia’s contract to overhaul the military communications system for its national guard is especially sensitive.

It has embarked on a rolling programme since the 1970’s of upgrading its communications systems to help the national guard protect the Saudi royal family. The current phase is a 10-year project reportedly worth £2 billion.

GPT Special Project Management, a British subsidiary of EADS, Europe’s biggest defence company, is the prime contractor on the programme, which includes modernising satellite, radio and intranet systems of the royal palaces as well as the 125,000-strong national guard.

Exaro today exposed details of a series of 28 secret payments linked to the deal that went to two offshore accounts.

Saudi Arabia’s elite national guard, also known as the ‘White Army’, protects King Abdullah and the royal family from uprisings and military coups.

Abdullah sent the force last year to help the Bahraini royal family to crush an uprising.

The GPT contract includes supplying internet and mobile-phone jamming equipment to be used to track, and so help prevent, any attacks on the country.

Known as the Sangcom project, it also includes a system known as tropospheric scatter, which is a form of long-range microwave communication. One reason for ordering this system is said to be to provide secure communications for members of the royal family when they are hunting deep in the desert.

The immediate parent company of GPT Special Project Management is Paradigm Services. Both these companies are registered to the same address at Holborn Viaduct in central London.

Paradigm operates Skynet military satellites for the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), providing strategic communications for the British armed services and to Nato forces engaged on coalition missions.

In 2003, Paradigm won a £3.6 billion deal to become the MoD’s prime contractor for the latest generation of Skynet 5 satellites. Their ultimate parent company, EADS, was responsible for building the satellites and delivering them into orbit, while Paradigm Services ran the communications service for the MoD.

The website of Paradigm says that Skynet 5 “provides mobile voice, video, internet and broadcast communications for the UK armed forces, as well as a range of other government departments and agencies.”

There was speculation last year that EADS wanted to acquire parts of Britain’s biggest defence company, BAE Systems. They have been partners in several major projects including the Eurofighter jets and the A380 ‘super-jumbo’ made by Airbus.

But allegations surrounding the sensitive – and lucrative – Saudi contract threaten to land GPT and EADS in a lot of trouble.

An EADS spokesman said: “Certain allegations have been made, and these are being properly addressed with our full and constructive engagement.”

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