Exaro traces another partner behind network of companies linked to Saudi contract
By David Pallister and Mike Deri Smith | 19 February 2013
Another partner behind the network of companies linked to a huge Saudi contract embroiled in corruption claims can be identified today by Exaro.
Rupert Mitford, who was a director of a company in the network for 14 years, has also been an agent in Saudi Arabia for several British defence companies.
He was a long-time associate of Peter Austin, a key partner in two offshore companies that received £14.5 million from a British subsidiary of EADS, the European defence giant, as part of a deal to overhaul the Saudi national guard’s communications systems despite not appearing to carry out any sub-contracting work.
Austin was a long-time director of the UK-registered Duranton until it was dissolved in 2007. Mitford was also a director of the company from 1993 until it was dissolved.
Duranton was part of a network of companies set up around the world by Austin that, over more than 30 years, received millions of pounds in commissions on contracts with Saudi Arabia’s national guard.
Mitford, whose family home is in the Shropshire village of Marchamley, has been doing business in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years. He returned to London from his latest trip to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, last Friday.
He was at first the agent for CSC (Specialist Vehicles), makers of military trucks, according to newsletters of the Riyadh Group for British Business for 1990 and 1994.
CSC became part of the Hull-based Paneltex Group in 1994, And it is not known what business it did in Saudi Arabia.
In 1998, Mitford is shown to be an agent for GKN and, in 2001, for Alvis. Both companies, before and after those dates, supplied large numbers of armoured cars to Saudi Arabia’s national guard and its interior ministry.
GKN delivered more than 100 of its Piranha series of armoured vehicles in the early 1990’s. It sold its military-vehicles division to Alvis in 1998.
Alvis, manufacturer of tanks and armoured vehicles, was taken over in 2004 by BAE Systems and, in 2007, hundreds of its Tactica model were ordered.
During much of Mitford’s time as a co-director of the UK-registered Duranton, it was a dormant company. From the early 1980’s, however, Duranton had a turnover of close to £200,000 a year, most of which went on “administrative expenses”.
The business was described “as that of agents, advisers and consultants, particularly to persons and institutions interested in trade between Europe and the Middle East.”
According to the annual accounts, and for reasons that are unexplained, the Inland Revenue agreed that it was “not resident in the UK for taxation purposes”, despite being registered in the UK.
There is no suggestion of wrong-doing against Mitford, but it is thought that he could help explain to the SFO the purpose of the GPT transfers to Simec and Duranton.
Internal GPT emails show that the MoD knew about the offshore transfers and allowed them to continue. Historical documents in the National Archive suggest that senior civil servants in the MoD approved the arrangements. The initial contract was valued at the beginning, in 1976, at £150 million, but the latest 10-year phase started in 2010 is reportedly worth £2 billion.
Mitford declined to discuss his relationship with Austin or his Saudi business activities. “I used to know him, but I did not really work with him,” he said. “I do not know you, and I cannot really comment further.”
Austin is also declining to comment, citing ongoing litigation. This is understood to be a reference to a claim for damages against GPT from a group of sub-contractors.
According to GPT’s accounts, the sub-contractors “are the subject of investigation by the UK authorities”, and the damages claim is “pending arbitration”.
Meanwhile, Jeff Cook, managing director of the troubled GPT, is set to leave the company at the end of March.