Senior MP who helped suppress Saudi report wants it published

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The Independent Online
The senior MP who played a key role in suppressing a report into the massive Al Yamamah defence contract with Saudi Arabia has said there is now a case for reconsidering the matter.

Evidence emerged during the Jonathan Aitken libel trial, which collapsed on Friday, that substantial and secret commissions had been paid in relation to the the pounds 20bn deal.

Scotland Yard confirmed it has launched an investigation into allegations that Mr Aitken, the former chief secretary to the treasury and defence procurement minister, has committed perjury, and attempted to pervert the course of justice. The investigation is being undertaken by a senior officer from Scotland Yard's Special Operations Department.

Mr Aitken is believed to be in America. He is reported to have told friends he will talk to his family and then return to Britain in the next two weeks.

Robert Sheldon, as chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, decided with the senior Tory on the Committee, Lord Shaw, that the report into the Al Yamamah contract by the National Audit Office should not be made public. He and Lord Shaw were the only ones to see the report, which was denied to fellow members of the Public Accounts Committee on grounds of national interest.

Yesterday Mr Sheldon said: "Because of the time that has gone by, there is a case for looking at the papers again to decide whether the report should now be made public".

Mr Sheldon, now the chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, added that he would be pressing for wider powers for such investigations.

He said: "Our job was to ensure there was no misuse of public money, and we established that. However, we were only able to look within the Ministry of Defence. We were not able to follow public money outside the department, once it is paid to contractors, so we do not know what was done with it.

"We need those powers, they exist in the United States ... The reason we decided not to publish the report was because the Saudis may have become upset and embarrassed at some of the contents of the report and cancelled the contract. That would have cost thousands of jobs."

Before Mr Aitken withdrew his libel action, the High Court had heard evidence from David Trigger, a former executive of BMARC, where Mr Aitken had been a director in the past.

Cross-examined by George Carman QC, counsel for the defence, Mr Trigger said: "The Al Yamamah contract is a very complicated one that has involvement with the Government, British Aerospace, and other people.

"It would be very difficult to put a figure on commission. Commission was obviously paid but my understanding is that all my work connected with the contract is governed by the Official Secrets Act".