FO frets as Global Crossing splinters

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The Independent Online

The Foreign Office is making contingency plans to secure communications with its 226 embassies because of worries about the future of Global Crossing, which went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year.

A £165m deal with the US telecoms group to upgrade phone and data links with Britain's embassies was signed in May 2000. It was due to last for 10 years, giving secure satellite and cable links between Whitehall and the embassies. About 100 are already online with the rest due to join the network in the next 12 months.

However, Global Crossing's cash difficulties and likely break-up have spooked the Foreign Office.

In a written answer to Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said the Foreign Office had "contingency arrangements". The worry in Whitehall is that Global Crossing will be broken up and so one company will no longer carry out the contract. The group has already said it will sell its UK business with offers for its Asian and US operations.

A deal to rescue the group led by Li Ka-Shing, the Hong Kong entrepreneur who founded Orange, has been put on the back-burner.

MPs have expressed concern about Mr Li's close relationship with the Beijing government. But a Foreign Office spokesman said all secure communications sent over the Global Crossing network are encrypted using equipment owned by the Foreign Office.

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