MPs want Thatcher arms deal inquiry

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE was mounting on the Government last night to hold a public inquiry into claims that Mark Thatcher received pounds 12m in commissions from a huge arms deal negotiated by his mother when she was Prime Minister.

According to newspaper reports yesterday, Mr Thatcher acted as a middle-man in the pounds 20bn Al-Yamamah sale of 48 Tornado fighters, 60 Hawk jet trainers and mine hunters to Saudi Arabia. The deal, in 1985, was the largest ever struck between two nations.

Mr Thatcher's alleged role infuriated opposition MPs, who demanded the publication of a National Audit Office report that examined Yamamah in 1989 but was suppressed. There were calls for Baroness Thatcher to be questioned and Alan Williams, a Labour member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, demanded an investigation into whether there had been a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

Robin Cook, Labour trade and industry spokesman, said: 'The Scott Inquiry into arms sales to Iraq provides a good model for what is now needed. There are two main questions that must be answered. What influence did Mark Thatcher sell in return for these millions? How much did Margaret Thatcher use her public office to promote her son to make a private fortune?

'Michael Heseltine is the right man to set up the inquiry. Not only is he now the trade minister but he signed the deal 10 years ago. He owes the public the truth about Mark Thatcher's role.'

Rumours about Mr Thatcher and the Yamamah deal have been circulating in the media for years. Yesterday, however, the Sunday Times claimed to have copies of transcripts of telephone conversations between Saudi officials discussing his alleged role. The transcripts were among a large number of documents collated by by Mohammed Khilewi, a Saudi first secretary at the United Nations who defected to the US in May.

A senior Ministry of Defence official involved in Al- Yamamah confirmed to the Independent that Mr Thatcher was acting in some capacity, as was Wafic Said, a Syrian- born arms dealer who unofficially handled the British end of negotiations.

'There were lots of rumours that Mark was taking an interest in the contract but British Aerospace and the Government wanted a clear run at the Saudis,' he said. 'We did not want middle- men ruining it.' The official said the matter was brought to Lady Thatcher's attention via a private secretary but she did not appear to put a stop to her son's involvement.

The disclosures brought new calls for the publication of the NAO report. Mr Williams said: 'According to (Adnan Khashoggi, arms dealer quoted in the Sunday Times), Mark was useful because he could go to his mother with questions and come back with answers . . . If they were official secrets, then I think we ought to find out.'

Neither Lady Thatcher nor her son was available for comment yesterday. This morning's issue of Today newspaper quotes Mr Thatcher as denying ever having made any money from the sale of arms.

The Saudi contact, page 2

Thatcher profile, page 3

Leading article, page 15