This week the long-awaited trial of two individuals accused by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of paying millions in bribes to senior Saudi officials to secure lucrative defence contracts for the UK government has kicked off in a London court.
The high-profile prosecution relates to payments made by GPT Special Project Management (GPT), a British subsidiary of Airbus that was contracted by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide military communications equipment, maintenance and training to the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG). The SFO began investigating these payments more than a decade ago, after whistleblowers pointed to substantial payments made by GPT to offshore companies for ‘bought in services’.
The prosecution claims that GPT made these payments between 2007 and 2012 – amounting to 12.3% of its total revenue from the contracts – without evidence of substantive work having been done by those offshore companies. Instead, the majority of the funds were allegedly funnelled into the bank accounts of high-ranking officials in the SANG. One of the defendants, Jeffrey Cook, is also accused of taking kickbacks himself, having remained employed as a civil servant while acting as managing director of GPT.
The co-defendants, Cook and former GPT accountant John Mason, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. While not disputing that the payments were made, the defence argues that the British government authorised them as part of long-standing arrangements with the SANG to maintain the defence contract. The trial therefore raises important questions about the nature of these arrangements and the knowledge of government officials involved in the defence contract as to the ultimate beneficiaries and purpose of the payments.
A first trial against Cook and Mason was halted in July 2022, adding to the anticipation of this renewed trial as the result of the SFO’s long-running and politically sensitive probe into an allegedly corrupt arms deal.
Notes to editors
- These proceedings are subject to strict reporting restrictions, which may be made available by Southwark Crown Court on request, and the strict liability rule. Anyone intending to report on the case must be satisfied that they meet those requirements.
This article was updated on Monday 27 November to include details of the defence’s argument in this case, which was not reportable until this date.