Saudi Arabia signs $ 8.9 bn deal with Britain for Eurofighters


"The two governments on Tuesday (September 11) signed the contract for the acquisition of (72) planes for a cost of 4.43 billion pounds," a defence ministry spokesman told the state news agency SPA.

He said the deal follows an August 2006 agreement in principle and "a memorandum of understanding between the London and Riyadh governments to modernise the Saudi armed forces as part of their close defence ties".

The memorandum, inked in December 2005, also provides for "a transfer of technology, investment in Saudi military industry and aviation training for Saudis", the spokesman said.

Saudi Arabia is buying the aircraft at the same price they are sold to Britain’s Royal Air Force, he added without giving further details.

The Times newspaper reported on September 7 that BAE Systems was poised to clinch the deal to supply 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the oil-rich Gulf Arab kingdom.

It had been feared that the deal would be scuppered because of a British probe into allegations Saudi Arabia took bribes from BAE under a military-plane deal struck between London and Riyadh more than 20 years ago.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office last year investigated BAE Systems’ massive 43-billion-pound Al-Yamamah deal in 1985 that provided Hawk and Tornado jets plus other military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

But the British government shelved the investigation last December in a move supported by then prime minister Tony Blair amid concerns over Britain’s national interests.

Despite this, the US Department of Justice in June launched its own investigation into BAE Systems amid allegations the British arms maker paid bribes to secure contracts in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper alleged in June that BAE secretly transferred more than two billion dollars to accounts controlled by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.

Both BAE and Bandar have denied charges of wrongdoing.

The announcement that the deal has been sealed comes in the runup to a three-day visit to Britain by Saudi King Abdullah, his first since he rose to the throne of the oil powerhouse in August 2005.

The monarch arrives in Britain on October 30 at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II for talks on boosting ties between the two states and "regional and international issues of common concern," according to the royal court.

Press reports had put the overall value of the Eurofighter deal at more than twice the cost reported by the Saudi defence ministry, with estimates ranging from 20 to 40 billion dollars.


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