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Third insider blows whistle on ‘corrupt’ Saudi defence deal

Yet another former programme director tells SFO about ‘unethical’ Sangcom project

As I understood more, I began to realise how they conducted the business, and I was really concerned

Eddie Fisher, former programme director, Sangcom project

Another whistleblower has come forward to support allegations against a UK company of corruption in a huge defence deal with Saudi Arabia.

Eddie Fisher is the third person working on the project to sound the alarm. And he is the second former programme director to have given information about it to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which is carrying out a preliminary investigation into the case.

The new whistleblower grew concerned in his first week on the job in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “I was getting worried,” he told Exaro. “I do not ever get involved in anything to do with bribery, corruption, no matter what.”

The programme, known as the Sangcom project, is to overhaul the Saudi national guard’s communications systems. An Exaro investigation revealed details of transfers totalling just over £14.5 million linked to the contract and paid to two mysterious companies in the Cayman Islands between 2007 and 2010.

One of the companies was being lined up for what government officials 36 years ago called “agency fees” before the deal was even agreed.

A financial officer first blew the whistle within GPT Special Project Management, the current prime contractor on the Sangcom project, by drawing up a schedule of the mysterious payments, published two months ago by Exaro. The company is a subsidiary of EADS, the European defence giant.

A second executive, Ian Foxley, programme director in the latter half of 2010 and a former lieutenant-colonel in the British army, passed a copy of the financial officer’s schedule to the SFO.

Fisher, who has a doctorate in project management, was Foxley’s predecessor, and submitted to the SFO a document that details his experience as programme director for three months in early 2010.

In his signed memo to the SFO, Fisher alleges that the company conducted “unethical and inappropriate” business practices.

He also raises questions about the close relationship between GPT’s managing director, Jeff Cook, and the commander of the Saudi national guard’s signal corps, Major General Mohammed bin Khalid al-Nahed, nicknamed “General MK”.

He said that Cook rented a palatial house in the centre of Riyadh owned by the commander, while other GPT staff lived in a secure company compound.

Fisher asked himself why the managing director of a defence company would live in the house of a client. “That’s how I first started to think, ‘Whoa, whoa, what’s going on here?’” he told Exaro.

“As I understood more, I began to realise how they conducted the business, and I was really concerned.

“I overheard discussions... things like, ‘We need to make payments to this company, and we shall shut them up so that another competitor is off the books.’”

Contacted in Riyadh by Exaro, Cook declined to comment.

He referred questions to EADS, and its spokesman repeated the company’s previous position: “Certain allegations have been made, and these are being properly addressed with our full and constructive engagement.”

Fisher says that the SFO has failed to follow up his statement.

In April 2010, after just three months, Fisher quit his tax-free £85,000-a-year job, with free accommodation and a 4x4 company car.

“I just wanted to get out, to be honest,” he told Exaro. “So, I had to be a bit diplomatic. I told them it was for personal reasons. You do not put in your resignation letter that the reason is because there is too much corruption going on.”

According to Fisher, when Cook believed that he would not return to Saudi Arabia from a planned trip to London, his boss had the flight to the UK cancelled and his passport confiscated.

At that point, said Fisher, he resigned to force his employer to return his passport, and he left Saudi Arabia as quickly as possible. His successor, Foxley, also fled the country after he blew the whistle to officials working for the Ministry of Defence in Riyadh.

The SFO has so far only confirmed that it is “considering” the allegations, but declined to comment further.

Following Exaro’s investigation, Fisher telephoned the recently-appointed SFO director, David Green, and left a message to say that he is available for interview. To date, Green has not returned his call.

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