The Mark Thatcher Affair: Arms deal triumph for 'Batting for Britain': Steve Boggan examines the history of the biggest weapons agreement ever struck between two countries

IT WAS the biggest arms deal ever struck between two nations. Al- Yamamah, or Dove of Peace, was to cost pounds 20bn and keep 40,000 people in work until the end of the century.

Britain would supply Saudi Arabia with 48 British Aerospace Tornado fighters, 60 Hawk trainer jets, 88 helicopters, mine-hunters and naval and air bases.

For Margaret Thatcher it was a triumph for her policy of 'Batting for Britain'. For the middlemen, the fixers behind the deal, it meant vast commissions. For Mark Thatcher, it allegedly meant a pounds 12m windfall at the age of 31.

Al-Yamamah was born out of Saudi Arabia's need for state-of- the-art weaponry in the early 1980s as part of a rolling programme to counter the growing threat from Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. To solve his problems, King Fahd first turned to America, the usual provider of high-tech weaponry to the Saudis, but was rejected.

Since 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan had been encountering fierce opposition from the Jewish lobby to arms sales of arms to the Saudis. Two deals, for five AWACS surveillance planes and 60 McDonnell Douglas F-15 fighters, had fallen foul of the Jewish lobby - one scraping through Congress by only one vote, the other being cancelled altogether - so President Reagan suggested the Saudis look elsewhere.

Britain and France were the obvious choices, with the Americans privately backing Britain. Two rival camps were formed to fight for the deal. On the French side were two wealthy international arms dealers, Akram Ojjeh and Adnan Khashoggi. On the British side was another arms dealer, Wafic Said, a Syrian-born Cambridge graduate whose name, and contacts with the Saudi royal family, were well known to British defence officials.

Mr Said had been brought into the deal by a group of businessmen, financiers and Ministry of Defence officials known as the 'Savoy Mafia' because they held their meetings at the London hotel, led by Alan Curtis, the former chairman of Lotus and a long-time friend of Denis Thatcher. When the Saudi business began looming large, they decided to enlist the services of Mark Thatcher; his name, they believed, would be sure to impress the Arabs.

Sources close to the Savoy group have said Mark Thatcher was attractive to its members because they believed that the Saudis over- estimated his influence over his mother. One senior MoD official said: 'We knew he was involved, and we didn't like it. We wanted a clear run at the Saudis and we were afraid he would get in the way.'

The fortunes of the two groups ebbed and flowed, with the French bid, offering Mirage 2000 fighters, gaining early ground. It is understood, however, that members of the British team, possibly including BAe executives, flew to Geneva at the end of 1983 to persuade Mr Ojjeh to withdraw. It is not clear what form the persuasion took, but it resulted in vain attempts by an abandoned Mr Khashoggi to get on board the British bid, and the French challenge collapsed.

Meanwhile, Lady Thatcher, then Prime Minister, had been wooing the Saudis in secret. During the spring of 1985, she held several meetings with Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, at 10 Downing Street, and in Austria and Switzerland.

The Saudis' main concern was that the British should allow them to tie up the deal in their own way. It is believed this involved inviting BAe to over-charge for the weaponry, with the difference between the true price and the inflated price being used to pay 'commissions'. Mr Said's team is reported to have received pounds 240m for arranging the deal.

By September, the first part of the two-part understanding had been signed and Lady Thatcher's son was a rich man.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot