Dominica owns up to aid lure in Masari case

Dominica has conceded that its decision to accept the Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Masari, ordered out of Britain amid claims that the Government was seeking to protect huge arms deals, was motivated by commercial interests.

While denying it received cash from the UK government, the Dominican Prime Minister, Eddison James, has made it clear that financial aid and a guaranteed trade in its cash crop, bananas, were at issue. "If Britain were to lose billions and billions of pounds ... it might well be they would not be able to buy our bananas or buy at the rate we would like, or be able to continue to give us the level of aid we would like. There lies the relationship between their commercial interest and our commercial interest," he said.

"We did this for a friendly government ... The British are taking action to safeguard jobs and commercial interests in Britain. Our economy is deeply intertwined with that of Britain. We had to take the total picture into consideration."

The admission came in a televised phone-in with the Prime Minister yesterday shown to an immigration adjudicator hearing Dr Masari's appeal against deportation. Mr Eddison was asked if his government had been bribed to take Dr Masari. "There was no deal money. No money exchanged hands," he said.

Dr Masari heads the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, pledged to establish an Islamic republic in Saudi. His activities since arriving in Britain last year have infuriated the Saudi royal family, which threatened to withhold contracts.

Britain stands to benefit by up to pounds 20bn from the Al-Yamamah arms deal. Home Office ministers have admitted the deportation order was influenced by the need to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia. They have made it clear they consider Dominica a safe haven.

But yesterday lawyers for Dr Masari said he would be a "reluctant pioneer" if the Government deported him. Dominica has no refugees and, therefore, limited legal safeguards.

Andrew Nicol QC, questioned whether a letter from Mr James to the British government offering asylum to Dr Masari had any real value, because other pieces of the country's legislation put him at risk of being removed. A range of legislation allowed ministers to expel aliens "if it is expedient for peace and good order", if they were unable to support themselves, or, crucially, because of their "standards or habits of life".

Details of Dominican legislation were given to the hearing by Nicholas Liverpool, a Caribbean appeal court judge. Earlier, Dr Liverpool, called by the Home Office, had told Judge David Pearl, the chief special adjudicator, that the government's letter gave Dr Masari a reasonable expectation he would be welcomed in Dominica. But on the video, Mr James promised only to consider any claim for asylum.

Outside the court, George Galloway, Labour MP and organiser of the Masari Must Stay campaign, said: "Our moral credentials as a fair country are prejudiced by a decision which represents getting off our knees and on to our bellies to the Saudi regime."

The hearing continues today.

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