Yamamah” arms deal with Saudi Arabia was the subject of a second secret
report by government auditors.
The revelation of the existence of a second report by the national audit office (NAO), prepared in 1997/8, resulted from a response to a request under the freedom of information act (FOIA).
Unlike other NAO reports, this second audit of the Al Yamamah agreement was never submitted to MPs on the parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC).
The Al Yamamah agreement has been embroiled in bribery allegations, and a report completed in 1992 by the NAO on the role played in the deal by the ministry of defence (MoD) was suppressed by MPs on the PAC.
The government is refusing to release the 1992 report under FOIA on the grounds of parliamentary privilege, and prejudice to the UK’s international relations and, variously, commercial interests and the UK economy.
However, a list of related documents that govern-ment departments are refusing to disclose has revealed that a further NAO report was prepared a few years later.
The list identifies three versions of the second report by the comptroller & auditor general (C&AG), head of the NAO.
The first is described as a “draft report”, relating to defence accounts for 1995-6, on, “Defence systems procurement and research – The Saudi Arabian Armed Forces Project,” and, “Report by the comptroller & auditor general – NAO February 1997”.
The second is described as, “Revised version – 31 March 1998,” and the third, “‘Last’ version of Draft Audit Findings – October 1997.” The dates suggest that the compiler of the list has confused the timings of the three versions, because the final version is said to have pre-dated an earlier version.
The list suggests that the report was completed in either 1997 or 1998.
It also shows that the MoD responded to a draft, with the list of undisclosed material identifying a “letter from Sir Robert Walmsley, chief of defence procurement to C&AG responding to recommendations in draft audit findings – 30 March 1998.” This would date the later NAO report as 1998 rather than 1997.
The list also makes clear that the earlier report, of 1992, went through three versions, a “first draft”, an “interim draft” and a “final draft” – most likely amended in response to points raised by the MoD – before being presented to the PAC.
The government has so far refused to disclose any of the contents of the later NAO report, or the MoD’s response to earlier drafts, on the grounds of prejudice to the UK’s international relations and its economy.
However, the revelation of its existence, and the fact that it was never presented to MPs on the PAC is bound to increase the pressure on the government to release the NAO's audits of the MoD's role in Al Yamamah.
Another version of this article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph.
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