LONDON: The British government facilitated millions of pounds of payments to senior Saudi Arabian officials over decades to win and maintain lucrative contracts, lawyers representing a former civil servant accused of corruption said on Monday.

Jeffrey Cook, the former managing director of an Airbus subsidiary GPT Special Project Management, is accused of paying nearly 9.7 million pounds ($12.2 million) to middlemen to win contracts with the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

Cook, formerly a civil servant with Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), is charged with one count of corruption between 2007 and 2012 alongside John Mason.

Both men deny the charges and Cook’s lawyer Tom Allen told jurors at Southwark Crown Court that payments were made to middlemen from the late 1970s “with the oversight, with the approval (and) with the encouragement of our government”.

Prosecutor Mark Heywood said last week that Cook and Mason were at the heart of “deep corruption” to funnel bribes to top Saudi officials, including Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, son of the late King Abdullah.

Allen said on Monday that there was no dispute that nearly 9.7 million pounds was paid, but Cook did not act corruptly.

He told the court that senior British officials, politicians and diplomats knew and consented to such payments, totalling nearly 60 million pounds from 1978, which a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia had described as a “deniable fiddle”.

The case focuses on GPT, the sole business of which was to provide communications systems to the Saudi Arabian National Guard under a contract with Britain’s MoD.

Allen told the jury that the key issue in the trial was “who dances – and how – to the Saudi tune”.

“It is and always has been the (British) government and the MoD and Jeffrey Cook is being hung out to dry whilst the government hides its blushes,” Allen said. He added that “Britain tries never to upset the Saudis because there is so much at stake”, including the importance of the two countries’ political and diplomatic relationship.


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