London, June 8, IRNA - Prime Minister Tony Blair was reported Friday to be hoping to finally sign a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia for the supply of Eurofighter Typhoon planes before he leaves office on June 27.
The Financial Times, quoting industry insiders, said there was growing expectations that the multi-billion deal, which would be Britain's biggest-ever export order, could be inked as early as next week.
News of the possible signing comes amid renewed allegations of bribes being paid for the UK's previous al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia to supply Tornado fighters, negotiated by former prime minister Lady Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s.
According to the BBC, payments of more than Pnds 1 billion (Dlrs 1.9bn) were made to former Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan through Britain's top defence manufacturer, BAE Systems with the knowledge of Blair's government.
The Guardian newspaper Friday also reported that Britain's Attorney General Lord Goldsmith was aware of the secret money transfers and ordered the British investigators to conceal them from international anti-bribery watchdogs.
Details of payments to accounts in the US were said to have been discovered by officers from Britain's Serious Fraud Office during its into BAE Systems, before Blair abruptly called a halt to the year-long inquiry.
But the Attorney General has 'categorically' denied ordering British anti-bribery investigators to conceal more than Pnds 1 billion in secret payments allegedly made to the Saudi prince.
"It is absolutely untrue that I ordered investigators to conceal payments from the OECD. This is what The Guardian alleged. It is categorically denied," he said.
Goldsmith refused to discuss the allegations, including claims that payments continued after Labour came to power in 1997, saying that he was "not going into the detail of any of the individual allegations." "The reason is, as the Ministry of Defence has made clear and they are the responsible department, that they regard the United Kingdom as bound by confidentiality provisions. It is not for me to break those," he told the BBC Radio Four programme.
Defending the decision to halt the inquiry while attending the G8 summit in Germany on Thursday, Blair has insisted that without the intervention it would have led to the "complete wreckage" of vital British interests had it been allowed to continue.
"This investigation, if it had gone ahead, would have involved the most serious allegations and investigation being made of the Saudi royal family," he told reporters, adding that it was his job to see whether it is a "sensible thing in circumstances."
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