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Bribery: The Driving Force Behind Middle Eastern Arms Sales

Corruption runs rampant in U.S. arms deals in the Middle East.

Credit:Pavel L Photo and Video/ Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • We will never know the full details of all the Middle Eastern arms deals. They may be rife with bribes to agents working for the Saudis and others.
  • There is no geo-political strategy behind Trump’s embraced of the Saudis. The only motivation is the desire to sell more and more US arms.
  • Trump and the Saudis must be very happy that the Soleimani killing has put public attention in the US completely on Iran -- the Saudis’ nemesis.
  • Donald Trump seems completely oblivious to the mounting risks of placing the most sophisticated US weapons systems in Saudi hands.

We will never know the full details of all the Middle Eastern arms deals. They could well be rife with kick-backs and bribes to agents working for the Saudis and others.

Our ignorance is the product of the total secrecy that governments in the region insist upon in all aspects of military procurement.

The Saudi government prevents any form of external monitoring of arms contracts. The U.S. government could be more forceful in insisting on external inspections and transparency — it is not, it just wants to export arms.

Saudi kick-backs galore

The corrupt activity may center on the “offset” agreements that the Saudis and the UAE insist be part of all major arms deals.

These are side-arrangements that may not be related to the military sector at all. Instead, they often provide funds for business sectors selected by the Saudi and UAE governments.

These deal-sweeteners can be very large, “worth a third (in the case of Saudi Arabia) to almost two-thirds (in the case of UAE) of the defense contract itself,” according to a new report by scholar Jodi Vittori for Transparency International (TI).

The report provides examples from some years back, such as a $5 billion Mc Donnell Douglas sale to the Saudis where one of the offset agreements involved establishing a factory to refine oils into shampoo and paint.

And, on another deal highlighted in the report, French arms manufacturers set-up a joint venture with a Saudi firm selected by the government to build greenhouses for fresh flowers.

U.S. companies assert that they are sensitive to being in compliance with U.S. laws that criminalize bribes to foreign government officials.

But, the intricacies of the offset deals are often directed by the Saudis, with some ventures involving senior defense officials, or new ventures where control is with a Saudi partner or Saudi agents — and no doubt commissions — to finalize arrangements.

Trump: Triumph of the mercenary mindset

There appears to be no global security or geo-political strategy behind Trump’s embraced of the Saudis. The only motivation seems to be the desire to sell more and more U.S. arms.

No wonder that Mr. Trump has brushed aside all human rights concerns that came into sharp focus with the Saudi killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

No wonder either that Mr. Trump and the Saudis must be very happy that the Soleimani killing has put public attention in the United States almost completely on Iran, the Saudis’ nemesis.

Owing to his completely mercenary mindset, Donald Trump seems completely oblivious to the mounting risks of placing the most sophisticated U.S. weapons systems in Saudi hands.

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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