‘Deep corruption’ at centre of SFO Saudi bribery trial

‘Deep corruption’ at centre of SFO Saudi bribery trial

22 Nov 2023 ( Financial Times )

“Deep corruption” is at the heart of a criminal case against two men accused of bribing Saudi Arabian officials to secure lucrative defence contracts with the UK government, according to the prosecution at a London trial.

In opening arguments on Wednesday, the jury sitting at Southwark Crown Court were told they must decide whether the men knew they were making corrupt payments in relation to the arrangements between the UK Ministry of Defence and the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) for the installation and operation of Saudi military communications networks.

The case brought by the Serious Fraud Office relates to a UK government deal to provide communications services to the SANG that were delivered by GPT Special Project Management, a now defunct unit of Airbus. Jeffrey Cook, 67, former managing director of GPT, and John Mason, 81, an accountant and part-owner of some of GPT’s subcontractor companies, are accused of paying bribes of nearly £10mn to Saudi officials to win business between 2007 and 2012. “The Saudi public official recipients did nothing to justify any form of payment . . . those payments were bribes,” said prosecutor Mark Heywood KC. “There is no proper or legitimate reason why those officials and intermediaries should have been paid the large sums that they received.”

Cook is also charged with one count of misconduct in public office between 2004 and 2008 in relation to allegations he sought and received commissions in connection with work placed by him when he was an employee of the MoD, where he worked before GPT. He is accused of receiving kickbacks in the form of tens of thousands of pounds in cash and two cars. Both the defendants deny the charges against them, for which the joint charge of corruption carries a seven-year maximum sentence in prison. On the first count, misconduct in public office, which Cook is also charged with, the sentence is unlimited. The backdrop to the case stems from the 1970s, when the UK government entered into agreements with the SANG to provide MoD and civilian contractor assistance to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the installation and operation of its communications logistics. The work was known as the SANGCOM project, and since the mid-1990s GPT had contracts with the MoD to carry out the work for the SANG. GPT also used subcontractors owned by Mason, known as the Simec companies. According to the prosecution, GPT paid “substantial sums of money” — authorised by Cook, who used the Simec companies and Mason — to bribe high-ranking officials in the SANG so that the company could procure and keep renewing its lucrative SANGCOM contracts. The SANG is a separate military force from the army in Saudi Arabia, comprising more than 100,000 men. It has been deployed within and outside the country and its duties include protection of the royal family. Two other men, former MoD employee Terence Dorothy and Simec co-founder Peter Austin, were also arrested and investigated in connection with the case, the jury heard. Both have been deemed too unwell to face trial. The trial is expected to finish in March 2024.