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Aitken faces renewed pressure Further pressure likely on Aitken 4/30 pt of spacey type


Westminster Correspondent

Jonathan Aitken, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will come under renewed pressure on Monday when ITV's World in Action programme explores his relationships with members of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Lawyers acting for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia are understood to have contacted the programme to try to stop it. Peter James, of the law firm Peter T James, has been in touch with the producers of the programme which centres on arms deals and the way Western companies won orders from the largest purchaser in the world.

The programme has been brought forward after the revelations in the Independent about Mr Aitken's directorship of an arms company that sold guns to Iran in defiance of a UN embargo.

It also coincides with the publication next week of the paperback edition of The House of Saud, by Said Aburish, a Middle East writer and former businessman. Mr Aburish has assisted the programme with its investigation and has been filmed. His publisher, Bloomsbury, promised yesterday that "his revelations about Jonathan Aitken's involvement in arms dealing ... will be explosive and highly controversial".

Mr Aburish's first book, Pay-off, dealt with bribery in the Middle East. After publishing The House of Saud, he claims to have been persecuted by the Saudi state machine.

"This is a book that the Saudi royals have desperately tried to suppress," Bloomsbury said.

In what could be a rerun of the diplomatic row between Britain and Saudi Arabia over the programme Death Of A Princess, World in Action accuses the Saudi rulers of corruption in arms deals.

Among those filmed was Gerald James, former chairman of BMARC, the arms company of which Mr Aitken was a director and which shipped guns to Iran.

Mr James told the programme about his knowledge of the corruption surrounding the Black Hawks helicopter deal between the US and Saudi Arabia. This deal, which has been well-documented in US court proceedings, included the payment of massive bribes. The helicopters cost $7.5m (£4.7m) each, but by the time bribes or "commissions" were added, the cost rose to $15m. Mr Aitken had no involvement in that deal.

However, he shared his intimate knowledge of the Saudi Arabian rulers with BMARC. In the confidential board minutes obtained by the Independent, he promises to try and sell the company's products in Saudi Arabia. At a board meeting on 2 November 1988 Mr Aitken proposed a presentation should be made in the country during January 1989.

The same meeting heard how "the agent acting for Mr Aitken" had already pulled off one Saudi order, "is ambitious and is working hard at establishing relationships".

Mr Aitken's closeness to the Saudi royals is well known. Prior to becoming a minister he was a director of Al Bilad (UK), one of their investment companies.