Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's now getting really bad ...

Andrew ... it's over.
and the text of the letter:

Duke of York as "Trade Envoy"

It takes a lot to bring former British Ambassadors to criticise a member of the Royal Family in public but it is surely now recognised that the Duke’s activities are doing such serious damage to the Royal Family itself and to Britain’s political, diplomatic and commercial interests that an entirely new role should be found for him as soon as possible.

The suggestion that a Prince is needed to “open doors” is insulting to our Ambassadors. Has that not been their primary job, as representatives of The Queen to foreign Heads of State? And are they not fully competent to support serious business proposals, as welcome to the host country as they will be to Britain. Trade promotion is a serious, long-term commitment, in which the embassy can give the best informed guidance and work effectively in partnership with the British enterprise and in step with Whitehall and other agencies to consolidate reputations and build long-term success.

The message being spread around the world is that Britain is so desperate for business, so incapable of competing openly, that it needs a back-door approach and is content to work closely with dodgy fixers and politicians – ie that British business is incapable of winning contracts through professional, legal means. That is both insulting and damaging to those hundreds of thousands of businesses – mine included – that not only have no need of such methods but would go a long way to steer clear of them.

As a member of the Service I did my fair share of trade promotion work in the Gulf, Canada, North Africa and Hong Kong. This experience left me in no doubt that corruption presents the greatest threat to Britain’s long-term political and commercial interests. This is especially true of the Arab world, where reputation matters and memories are long. Contracts can, of course, be bought by devious methods, but they are highly likely to go pear-shaped and when the contract is questioned and the bills unpaid, there will be no HMG or “trade envoy” around to help. I have personal experience of several companies experiencing such outcomes, especially in the Gulf, and having to withdraw from the region as a result.


I read in the newspapers that the Duke was asked to convey private messages to the Amir of Qatar, a man I have known since 1981 and have been retained to advise on family and other matters since leaving the DS in 1993. We have an excellent Ambassador in Doha and Sheikh Hamad is the most accessible of rulers, in person and on the telephone. To use such an intermediary strikes me as crassly inappropriate. So far as the FIFA bid is concerned, is it conceivable that some responsible people in London thought it better to pass to a member of the Royal Family the risk of making an improper proposal, rather than instruct an official?
Sheikh Hamad and his father before him have been consistent for decades in arguing that they wished for a serious, open and consistent dialogue with HMG. That was the message Sheikh Khalifah gave to Mrs Thatcher in Doha in 1980 – and when she proposed sending her son to talk things through he banned him from entering the country. Thank goodness, at very long last, your government has done just what the Qataris have been pleading for since independence. I know from my personal contacts with the Amir and his family that they strongly disapproved of efforts to use “royal” connections to lever financial and commercial benefits. If Britain is to regain anything like the position it held in Qatar until the mid-eighties, a lot of serious work is required and the Duke of York would be the worst person to deploy in such an exercise.


I learned of the lunch in Buckingham Palace given in honour of Sakher El Materi on my way to an interview on the Today programme about Arab funding of our academic institutions (an issue that risks leaving the same damaging impression that Britain is broke, desperate and shameless). John Humphreys asked what I thought and I replied that to say I was amazed would be an under-statement. That story will damage our interests and standing in Tunisia and wider afield. Thank goodness there was time for the press to be told it was not done on official advice.
Materi was, as we all know, the worst of all the crooks in the Presidential family. Our Ambassador in Tunis was fully aware of the threat he presented and kept him at arms length. I was first warned about him some 5 years ago by a leading British businessman in Dubai, who had been advised by his local partner not to accept an invitation to work in Tunisia. A Saudi businessman who met Materi at a lunch in Riyadh referred to him as “the most disgusting man I ever met” – throughout the lunch Materi had bragged about his possessions, claimed to be the anointed successor to Ben Ali and gave credit to God for enabling him to marry the President’s daughter and become so very rich.
Materi’s house in Hammamet was a monument to his vulgarity and corruption. A film is circulating on Facebook and YouTube showing the team of Tunisian archaeologists who entered his house to retrieve the 80 Punic and Roman antiquities he had looted, broken up, and built into the walls and amenities. The senior archaeologist broke down in tears, saying – “These are our national treasures; how could they have done it?” The film illustrates the disgust that inspired the Tunisian people to eject the lot.
The Duke’s activities in Tunisia were the source of rumour and speculation in Tunisian business circles for several years and I was often asked what he was up to and in what way he was promoting trade with Britain. It was embarrassing to have to say that I had no idea, though I was at the time President of the Tunisian-British Chamber of Commerce and in 2001 had been awarded Tunisia’s highest honour open to a foreign national for my contribution to trade ties.
The most worrying story emerged 2 or 3 years ago when the Duke stayed in the holiday home of Mohamed Mabrouk at Hammamet. Mabrouk’s younger brother is married to a daughter of the former President by his first wife and the 3 Mabrouk brothers fled into exile during the revolution. A cousin of Mabrouk, a leading Tunisian banker based in London, rang to ask me what the Duke was doing there. He said the visit has been arranged by a notorious Libyan fixer, Tarek Kaituni, who had been imprisoned in Tunisia ten years earlier on drugs offences. (I see he was also arrested in France). My banker friend went on to say he had been told by his cousin that he had been contacted in the night by Sakher Al Materi to say that Qadhaffi was staying as his guest and wished to see the Duke. Mabrouk arranged for the Duke to go over to the nearby villa of Materi for a meeting. This story is widely known in Tunisia, a country that has a deep dislike for the Libyan leader who twice made serious attempts to overthrow the Tunisian government.
Incidentally, I see that Sakher el Materi is mentioned as a Deputy Chairman for the Tunisian-British Chamber of Commerce. That is a title he chose for himself when the Chamber was reconstituted last autumn in a procedure that was so rotten that BG, far and away the largest British investment ever in Tunisia, walked out of the meeting.

The Royal Family

There is no prouder job than to be a British Ambassador and to represent Her Majesty The Queen. The status this gives around the world, and especially in Arabia, is unique and priceless.
To use that legacy for crude commercial advantage is crass. I have spent much of my adult life with the sheikhly families of Arabia, first as a Colonial Adviser, as a diplomat and for 18 months as emissary of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, and since 1993 as a consultant engaged mainly with Arabia. Their reputations now risk being tarnished by the flurry of British media reports. On Thursday, The Today programme attacked Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi (arguably the greatest of all the Gulf rulers and a true friend of Britain) and yesterday I had to defend Sheikh Hamad of Qatar against the charge that he is a tyrant.
Of course the Amirs and Sheikhs engage with trade and finance, but this is generally done privately through agents and associates, not by principals directly. To use a member of our Royal Family for such purposes is seen by Arabs as crude and unworthy of our historic connections. It is quite the wrong way to promote our interests in this important region of the world and the sooner we are seen to have re-learned how to engage with Arabs the better.

Copies of this letter go to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and to Sir Jon Cunliffe at No 10.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Day CMG

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