UK sold at least £11m of arms to Saudi Arabia in weeks after Khashoggi murder

Peter Stubley

The UK government approved arms sales totalling at least £11.4m in the weeks after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Export licences for military vehicles, combat aircraft, ammunition and electronic warfare equipment were issued despite international condemnation of the killing.

One £9.1m shipment of “patrol/ assault craft” was waved through just three days after the prominent journalist disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey on 2 October.

The exports continued as it was reported that Mr Khashoggi had been tortured, killed and dismembered by officials linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia initially denied the claims before claiming on 20 October that Mr Khashoggi had died during a “fist fight”.

Two days later, as foreign minister Jeremy Hunt condemned the killing “in the strongest possible terms”, British trade officials pursued further deals during a high-level meeting with their Saudi counterparts.

The same day the government approved a licence for electronic warfare equipment valued at £180,000, according to official statistics analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

Further sales were approved the following month - including components for combat aircraft on 14 November, two days after the foreign secretary raised the murder of Mr Khashoggi during a meeting with Saudi leaders.

In total, the government approved 12 standard export licences to the value of £11,414,053 between October and December 2018.

However the true figure may be higher as two further “open” licences of potentially unlimited value were also approved during the same period. These both involved military aircraft parts and technology.

The details of the exports emerged as Mr Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz complained to the US Congress that “the world still has not done anything” about the murder.

Although Germany moved quickly to ban exports of arms to Saudi Arabia after the murder, the UK’s foreign secretary appealed to his counterpart in Berlin to lift the freeze, claiming that it was damaging the British defence industry.

The UK has already sold arms worth £4.7bn to Saudi Arabia since the brutal war in Yemen began in 2015 and a parliamentary report found that the weapons exports were causing “significant civilian casualties” and were probably illegal.

In 2017 CAAT began a legal challenge of the UK government’s decision to continue to licence the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Campaigners are still awaiting a judgement from the Court of Appeal.

Andrew Smith, of CAAT, said: “The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an appalling crime that has put more scrutiny that ever on the Saudi Arabian authorities.

“Despite the brutal killing, and the condemnation that followed, the UK government is doing everything it can to sell even more arms. Throughout every step of the revelations and investigations, more and more weapons have been sold.

“The weapons being sold to Saudi Arabia have played a central role in the destruction of Yemen. They have also given political support and cover to a brutal dictatorship, which has imprisoned human rights defenders and executed critics.

“If Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and their colleagues care for human rights and democracy, then they must stop arming and supporting the Saudi regime.”

A spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said in a statement: “The UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and we keep our defence exports to Saudi Arabia under careful and continual review

“The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia is whether there is a clear risk that those items subject to the licence might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

The DIT also pointed out that the granting of licences did not mean that sales had taken place.

Eleven Saudis were charged with the murder of Mr Khashoggi but the trial is mostly being heard behind closed doors.