How do you bribe a billionaire?

Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Here's one of those questions that really has no answer: How do you bribe a billionaire?

Prince Bandar bin Sultan was the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States for more than 20 years. He's a close personal friend of the Bush family and he's now a key advisor to the Saudi King.

Nonetheless, there are allegations in the British media today that Prince Bandar took billions of dollars in kickbacks from a British arms dealer. Marketplace's Steve Henn explains.


Steve Henn: The Guardian newspaper and the BBC are reporting that BAE, a British defense contractor, paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year in bribes to Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in return for his help securing an $80 billion arms deal.

Bandar and BAE issued statements today denying any wrongdoing. But in an 2001 interview with the PBS program Frontline, Bandar grudgingly acknowledged corruption in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan: What I am trying to tell you is, so what? We did not invent corruption.

Simon Henderson is a keen observer of Saudi politics.

Simon Henderson: This to my mind is one of the most serious accusations which has emerged over the years.

Nonetheless, this winter British Prime Minister Tony Blair quashed an investigation citing national security.

Anti-corruption activist Alexandra Wrage says the U.S. Justice Department should step in.

Alexandra Wrage: The U.S. Department of Justice has been very aggressive on less egregious facts than we have here.

But Henderson says an investigation of Prince Bandar is almost unimaginable.It's hard to overstate just how well-connected the prince is in Washington. Shortly after Colin Powell resigned as the U.S. Secretary of State, Bandar gave the Powells a Jaguar. Not the cat, the car.

But even more important than high-level personal relationships, Prince Bandar has acted as the crucial go-between for the U.S. government and the Saudi royal family for a generation.

In Washington I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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