BAE Systems is- to quote their website- a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defence and aerospace systems in the air, on land and at sea.
Or, to put it simply, they're an arms manufacturer. They deal in warplanes, warships, tanks, howitzers, missiles.
They're philosophical about it. On the very first page of their statement of corporate responsibility they state, human nature creates conflict, not the defence industry . So that's all right then. We are all guilty.
They've been in the news for other reasons recently. There have been allegations that a deal to supply Saudi Arabia with warplanes and other goodies was lubricated by the payment of bribes. An investigation by Britain's Serious Fraud Office was halted recently by the Blair Government. Blair was pretty frank about it- we don't want to upset our allies the Saudis, it could cost British jobs (see above) and compromise national security.
BAE's deal with Saudi Arabia is worth £43Bn. For some reason it's got a name. It's called Al-Yamamah- which is Arabic for "dove". Isn't that sweet?
Well, these things have a habit of not going away and the front page of my newspaper this morning is covered with specific allegations. According to un-named sources the bribes paid by BAE Systems amount to over £1Bn- and the money went into the pockets of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
And all with the knowledge and connivance of the British government. The payments continued even after corrupt payments to foreign officials were outlawed in 2002. Incidentally, they've been outlawed in the USA since 1977.
Prince Bandar used to be Saudi ambassador to the USA . He was- and I suppose still is- a very close friend and business associate of the Bush family- so close that they themselves nicknamed him Bandar Bush. Bandar is currently Saudi minister for National Security and- with his father established as Crown Prince- could become King some day. His house in Aspen Colorado is on the market for $135 million. If it sells at that price it will set a new US record.