29 Nov 2010

Prince Andrew caught up in WikiLeaks row

Prince Andrew becomes caught up in the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables row – reported as denouncing the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into BAE Systems as “idiocy”.

Prince Andrew - a special UK trade representative (Reuters)

The latest cables – published tonight by The Guardian – include a report alleged to be from the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, claiming that the Prince used “rude language a la British” in a speech to British and Canadian business people in 2008.

“(Prince Andrew) turned to the general issue of promoting British economic interests abroad,” she writes. “He railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia.

“He railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia.” Reported comments by US Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller

“His mother’s subjects seated around the table roared their approval. He then went on to ‘these (expletive) journalists, especially from the National Guardian[sic], who poke their noses everywhere’ and (presumably) make it harder for British businessmen to do business. The crowd practically clapped.”

Ms Gfoeller explained that the Prince was “referencing an investigation, subsequently closed, into alleged kickbacks a senior Saudi royal had received in exchange for the multi-year, lucrative BAE Systems contract to provide equipment and training to Saudi security forces.”

Diplomatic cables

This was just one of a mass of diplomatic cables being published throughout this week by WikiLeaks – via a collection of newspapers in Europe and the United States.

The Prince, who has a roaming brief as a UK trade representative, was described as speaking “cockily” and leading a discussion that “verged on the rude”, during a brunch in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

And it was not just the Serious Fraud Office which was the target of princely scorn. It is claimed the ambassador reported that discussion turned to allegations of corruption in Kyrgyzstan.

“In an astonishing display of candor in a public hotel where the brunch was taking place, all of the businessmen then chorused that nothing gets done in Kyrgyzstan if President Bakiyev’s son Maxim does not get ‘his cut’,” reports Ms Gfoeller.

“Prince Andrew took up the topic with gusto, saying that he keeps hearing Maxim’s name ‘over and over again’ whenever he discusses doing business in this country. Emboldened, one businessman said that doing business here is ‘like doing business in the Yukon’ in the nineteenth century, i.e. only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make any money.

“His colleagues all heartily agreed, with one pointing out that ‘nothing ever changes here. Before all you heard was Akayev’s son’s name. Now it’s Bakiyev’s son’s name’. At this point the Duke of York laughed uproariously, saying that: ‘All of this sounds exactly like France’.”

Tonight, a Buckingham Palace spokesman told Channel 4 News: “We do not comment on leaked documents.”

Maxim Bakayev, who is now exiled in Britain, has “absolutely” denied all the allegations.

Clinton’s condemnation

In Washington, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said America “deeply regrets” any disclosure of classified information.

“The US strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information that was intended to be confidential,” she said. “It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries.

“I would not comment on or confirm what are alleged to be stolen papers, but the US deeply regrets the disclosure of information that was meant to be kept secret.”

She said the US was taking “aggressive steps” to hold responsible those who “stole” the information.