The LeClerc tanks that Al Yousef helped to export are currently being used in the onslaught of Yemen by the Saudi coalition.
On the 28th of September 2018 Wikileaks released a document from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Court of Arbitration pertaining to a case between Al Yousef and the French arms company GIAT Industries SA (now Nexter Systems). Al Yousef made the extraordinary claim that he used his access to German politicians to justify the $235 million commission he was initially promised, but was left unpaid when the OECD Anti-Corruption Convention was transposed into French law in the year 2000.
The case in question was a 1993 deal between the UAE and GIAT for $3.6 billion worth of LeClerc tanks and armoured vehicles. Al Yousef successfully negotiated 6.5% of the price as his own extortionate commission, but the final $40 million of this was not paid into his Virgin Islands holding company after new legislation deemed this tax-free slush fund to be corrupt (according to GIAT).
Al Yousef argues that this wasn’t a simple bribe as he had to work for his quarter billion slice: work that included sweet-talking members of German Parliament to approve the export of tank engines for end-use in the Middle-East, which would ostensibly contravene Germany’s then-stringent restrictions on arms sales to ‘areas of tension’.
Helmut Kohl was Chancellor of Germany at the time who, as would later be proven, was no stranger to dark money from the proceeds of arms dealing. In 1999 Kohl was implicated in the largest German postwar corruption scandal after an Augsburg court charged arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber with channelling Saudi Arabian arms proceeds to the CDU party, which Kohl ultimately took responsibility for. This culminated in the rise of Angela Merkel at the expense of Wolfgang Schäuble and her former mentor Kohl, whom she lambasted in a 1999 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) op-ed, distancing herself from this corrupt circle of the party that she would become leader of a year later.
Germany is generally seen to take a more strict approach to arms exports compared to other large Western economies. The War Weapons Control Act stipulates that a Bundestag Federal Security Council must sign-off on weapons sales. Getting deals approved by the Bundestag is not a pencil-pushing formality: at times they have shown real fortitude in blocking high-value deals, such as blacklisting all exports to Saudi Arabia in January this year (though, less flatteringly, exports had almost quintupled between 2016 and 2017).
Passing a deal with the UAE was contentious in 1993: they were waging a war against Saddam Hussain in neighbouring Kuwait, a war that Germany wanted no part in. Openly supplying weapons to fuel this conflict would contradict their stance of neutrality. Though they did contribute financially to the American coalition, becoming a ring in the arms supply chain would undermine Kohl’s commitment to staying out of wars that did not concern NATO.
It would require significant political clout to influence this decision, so who was Al Yousef and did he have this level of power?
As you’d expect from a global arms dealer, the profile of Abbas Ibrahim Yousef Al Yousef is scrubbed pretty clean from the public eye. He has served on the board of Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus since 2006; he is the director of an unknown company called Riata International based in Panama – almost certainly a shell company – and he is a donor to the Clinton Foundation. Riata International lists the Swiss lawyer Cyril Abecassis as another director, who was implicated in another textbook corrupt arms deal involving BAE Systems in the 1990s, and is still practising law to this day.
Abecassis acted as a Swiss ‘cut-out’ to BAE Systems in the late 90s as detailed in the book Understanding Shadows by Michael Quilligan. According to a UK Serious Fraud Office investigation, Abecassis and his business partner Rene Merkt schmoozed ‘middlemen’ who commanded varying levels of decision making power in regards to military procurement and ensured that BAE Systems were awarded contracts, keeping bribery outside of the remit of UK and EU authorities through their offices in Geneva. To this day Abecassis and Merkt are still licensed practitioners of law in France and still work together at Merkt & Associates in Geneva.
Abecassis is still cashing-in on his arms industry contacts, though in the climate of 2018 he runs the ratline between France and Dubai: a contrast from the Blair-era golden years of UK arms dealing when he wisely positioned himself between Saudi Arabia and London.
This isn’t even Al Yousef’s first arms trade scandal: last year he was implicated in a corruption affair at Airbus. As written in Der Spiegel, the ‘German-French aerospace giant had paid 19 million euros to another company called Avinco, which bought and sold used airplanes and helicopters, and had used a sham firm to cover its tracks. Yousef appears to have been behind Avinco.’ The businessman siphoned the proceeds from Airbus to another company in Panama called Rochade Consultancy, which in turned transferred it to the holding company of an opaque ‘Swiss and European family business group with shareholders living in Lebanon’ called Malana Holdings. Sadly the trail stops here for the Guardian investigation into this case, as they were unable to identify the individuals behind this final company.
It’s a dirty circle of old players in the arms dealing business such as Abecassis and BAE, cleverly structured front companies designed to obfuscate and seedy, seedy transfers of money for extremely ill-defined services invariably related to ‘consultancy’: the euphemism of choice for this kind of work.
‘Consultancy’ dominates the arms industry, from Europe and America to the overwhelmingly-likely final destination for machines designed to kill humans: the Middle East. Consultants run the game and will be consulting until the political system changes.
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