Peter Austin faces questions after being tracked to private Caribbean island in Bahamas
By David Pallister | 28 January 2013
“I regret that Mr Austin is unable to engage in the discussions to which you refer” – Erica Austin, speaking on behalf of husband Peter
One of two partners in an offshore company embroiled in bribery allegations in Saudi Arabia is refusing to discuss his role after Exaro identified him.
He declined to talk about the huge defence contract that is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office because of “current legal proceedings”.
Peter Austin, who was tracked down to a private Caribbean island, was at the centre of a web of companies set up in five jurisdictions over more than 35 years to receive commissions on Saudi deals. The companies went under the names of Simec and Duranton.
It is understood that the reference to “legal proceedings” is litigation being pursued by Simec International and Duranton International, two companies registered in the Cayman Islands, over the cancellation of contracts amid allegations of bribery.
GPT Special Project Management, the British contractor overhauling the Saudi national guard’s communications systems under the ‘Sangcom project’, transferred more than £14.5 million to the two Cayman companies.
GPT, a British subsidiary of EADS, the European defence giant, recorded in its accounts that allegations about a group of sub-contractors “are the subject of investigation by the UK authorities, as well as a claim for damages from the sub-contractor group.” This is said to be “the subject of a pending arbitration”.
Last October, Exaro revealed that Simec International was a key party to a huge medical contract with the Saudi national guard.
New clues about the mysterious Cayman company were unearthed in a letter written in 1980 by a Conservative MP, the late Julian Amery, to Lord Carrington, then foreign secretary.
That letter identified the partners in Simec International as Bryan Somerfield, a British political officer during the ‘Aden emergency’ who died at the age of 85 in 2004, and Austin, although the document misspelt his name as “Austen”.
The two were early participants in the oil-fuelled expansion and modernization of the Saudi armed forces in the late 1970’s. They targeted the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which was embarking on a modernization programme under its commander, Prince, now King, Abdullah.
Many of his business dealings were handled by his brother-in-law, Mahmoud Fustok, the Lebanese-born businessman who was killed in a road accident in 2006 in America, where he was a celebrated racehorse breeder.
Whitehall documents dating back to 1972 show that UK government officials knew that bribes were needed to secure contracts with the Saudi national guard.
Exaro has made a series of disclosures about the Sangcom project, including an admission by the UK’s Ministry of Defence that Saudi Arabia pays for civil servants and other officials working on the contract.
Austin’s name appears as a director in several companies using the names Simec and Duranton, with fellow directors from Jersey or Geneva. The first was Simec International Ansalt in Liechtenstein, set up in 1975. In 1982, Simec International and Duranton International were established in the Cayman Islands.
In 1993, Austin is shown as a director of the UK-registered Duranton and another company with the same name in Dublin.
This Irish company traded until 1998. Its accounts for 1997 said: “The principal activity of the company is that of acting for agents, advisers and consultants for international trade.” The company received nearly £1 million that year, which mostly went on “administration”.
In 2006, Simec International WLL and Duranton International WLL were registered in Bahrain, with Austin being the majority owner. These are the only apparent surviving two from the list. The Cayman companies were struck off the register in December 2011.
Austin was traced by Private Eye to a 93-acre island in the Bahamas, Little Whale Cay, which he runs with his wife, Erica, as an exclusive holiday resort.
Parties of 12 pay $11,500 a night during the high season. He bought it in 1985, and it features in luxury travel magazines. Celebrities such as the actor, Nicholas Cage, are said to like it.
Austin comes from a wealthy family that owned a car dealership in Chelmsford, founded in 1907 by his grandfather, John Austin, a rally driver.
Asked by Exaro through his wife to comment, she replied on his behalf: “In light of current legal proceedings, I regret that Mr Austin is unable to engage in the discussions to which you refer.”