Britain probes claims of bribes to Saudi officials
LONDON - British fraud investigators are probing allegations that a unit of European defence group EADS bribed Saudi officials to secure a £2 billion communications contract, a report said Monday.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is investigating claims from a former employee that luxury cars, jewellery and money were given to officials to smooth the passage of the contract, said Britain's Daily Telegraph paper, citing an unnamed SFO source.
The communications contract, worth the equivalent of $3.3 billion or 2.3 billion euros, is reportedly one of the largest signed by Saudi Arabia in recent years.
Awarded to EADS subsidiary GPT, it involved an upgrade to the satellite and intranet systems of the Saudi National Guard, the force that protects the royal family, said the Telegraph.
Asked about the report, an SFO spokeswoman said: "I won't be confirming or denying that."
EADS UK Ltd spokesman Alvaro Meredith said: "Certain allegations have been made and these are being properly investigated."
A source familiar with the matter added that GPT had launched an internal inquiry following allegations made by a former employee.
The defence ministry, which helped coordinate the Saudi contract, said it was looking into the allegations.
"We take such allegations very seriously and we are looking at them carefully. It would be inappropriate to comment further while this process takes place," said a ministry spokesman.
A probe would evoke memories of an SFO investigation into alleged bribery of a Saudi prince by British defence group BAE several years ago, which severely tested relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia.
The SFO dropped the probe in 2006, with ministers saying that continuing the investigation would threaten national security.