Former Airbus unit paid £9.7mn in bribes to Saudi military, court told

A senior executive and associate of an Airbus subsidiary paid £9.7mn in bribes to Saudi Arabian military officials to secure contracts for the UK government a court was told on Thursday.

The prosecution barrister Mark Heywood QC said the case concerned “deep corruption in overseas defence contracts” at the start of the trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Jeffrey Cook, 65, former managing director of GPT Special Project Management, a now defunct unit of the European aerospace group, and John Mason, 79, former financial officer at two of GPT’s subcontractors, are on trial.

Both men, who deny the allegations, are charged with taking part in a bribery scheme between 2007 and 2012 to win lucrative UK government contracts to provide military communications to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which protects the Kingdom’s royal family.

Cook has also been charged with misconduct in a public office between 2004 and 2008 over commissions he was paid on deals placed when working for the Ministry of Defence.

On Thursday, Heywood told the court that GPT had paid £4mn a year to Simec, a foreign registered entity part-owned by Mason, which was then used to bribe high-ranking Saudi officials. Mason was also Simec’s finance officer.

Heywood told the court that just over 12.3 per cent of all revenue collected by GPT “went out the door almost immediately” to subcontractors including Simec which ultimately passed it to the bank accounts of certain members of the Saudi National Guard. “In a single word the case is one of ‘bribery’,” he said.

According to the prosecution, over 70 per cent of the money paid to Simec [received by the middlemen] “were paid straight on . . . to highly placed individuals”, including Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, a Sandhurst-educated member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of the National Guard © Thomas Imo/Photothek/Getty Images

Other recipients included a Lebanese businessman with close ties to the King, the court was told.

Heywood said Saudi individuals and intermediaries in the Saudi National Guard were paid a total of £9.7mn between 2007 and 2010 which they did “nothing legitimately” to earn.

Mason was “the one who received the money and actioned the payments, who did the accounting work and ensured that the foreign officials and their intermediaries received their share,” he said.

Cook was also paid “kickbacks” in the form of “tens of thousands of pounds” and cars, a Nissan Micra and a Honda Civic, while he was working for the MoD, enabling him to “double his annual salary” in just over a year, Heywood said.

A former MoD official Terence Dorothy, 81, was charged with “aiding and abetting that offence” but was found to be “too unwell” to face a trial and is no longer being prosecuted.

The Serious Fraud Office launched a criminal probe into GPT in mid-2012.

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