MP asked foreign secretary to help Simec International secure another Saudi deal
Exaro can reveal the contents of a letter written more than 30 years ago that sheds light on a bribery case under criminal investigation today.
Saudi Arabia’s national guard, commanded then by Prince, now King, Abdullah, had been negotiating a huge medical contract. The late Julian Amery, as a Conservative MP, wrote to Lord Carrington, then foreign secretary, in May 1980:
“I had a telephone call this morning from a Mr Bryan Somerfield, formerly a district commissioner in West Aden protectorate, but now a partner in Simec International, a company that is operating with a Mr P. Austen, the other partner in Saudi Arabia.
“He tells me that his company, together with a company called International Hospitals Group, have negotiated a contract with Prince Abdullah to look after the medical requirements of the national guard. According to him, it is of an unparalleled scale.
“Prince Abdullah has apparently told Mr Austen that he may not be able to go ahead with the contract because of the current coldness between South Africa [sic] and Britain.”
“In view of the importance of our business relations with Saudi Arabia… they have urged me to put it to you personally”
– Julian Amery MP, writing in a letter to Lord Carrington, then foreign secretary
As the civil servant who wrote an exclamation mark in the margin must have realised, the reference should have read Saudi Arabia, not South Africa.
At the time, Abdullah was at the forefront of Saudi hostility to the broadcast on UK television of ‘Death of a Princess’. The drama-documentary was about the true story of a young Saudi princess and her lover who were executed for adultery.
Saudi Arabia expelled the UK ambassador, and trade relations were badly damaged.
Amery’s letter, on behalf of Simec’s two named partners, suggested that Carrington might make a “high-level approach” to help secure the jeopardised contract.
“I told Somerfield that I thought it very difficult after the rebuffs that we have recently had for anyone at that level in the British government to take the initiative.”
“In view of the importance of our business relations with Saudi Arabia and of the particular contract on which this particular firm is engaged, they have urged me to put it to you personally.”
“I know that Somerfield is quite a good Arabist and a good member of the Colonial Service. I do not know Austen personally.”
Despite the concerns, the contract was agreed in the end.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is conducting a criminal investigation into GPT Special Project Management, a British subsidiary of EADS, the European defence giant, over bribery allegations on another contract, to overhaul the Saudi national guard’s communications systems.
The case centres on payments by GPT of more than £14.5 million transferred between 2007 and 2010 to two companies registered in the Cayman Islands.
Simec International received all the money, except for £141,000 that went to Duranton International.
Meanwhile, Exaro has established that Simec International and Duranton International were “struck off” the company register in Cayman back in December 2011. This means that they ceased to exist as Cayman companies.
Their registered office was with Appleby Trust (Cayman), part of the Appleby group, which describes itself as the “world’s largest provider of offshore legal, fiduciary and administration services.”
An Appleby spokeswoman said: “Any contact from an overseas authority such as the SFO would be routed through Cayman Islands authorities, and we are legally unable to comment on whether any such approach has been made.”
GPT filed accounts to Companies House for 2010, recording that “certain allegations” have been made in relation to a “group of sub-contractors”. A note adds: “The relevant sub-contracts were terminated. This termination has led recently to an unquantified claim from the sub-contractor group for monetary damages.”
The accounts were signed off in January 2012, which is after Simec International and Duranton International were removed as companies from the Cayman register.
GPT’s latest accounts, for 2011, signed off earlier this month, say: “Allegations have previously been made regarding a group of sub-contractors.
“These matters are the subject of investigation by the UK authorities, as well as a claim for damages from the sub-contractor group.”
The termination of contracts “led to an unquantified claim from the sub-contractor group for damages, which is the subject of a pending arbitration.”
An EADS spokesman said that the company was unable to explain the apparent anomaly in its accounts.