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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 18:19 GMT
Saudis expect Eurofighters 'soon'
Eurofighter
There were fears the Eurofighter deal could be lost
Saudi Arabia has said it will start taking deliveries of 72 Eurofighter jets from UK defence company BAE Systems "very soon".

The comments come a month after the Serious Fraud Office controversially dropped an investigation into a 1980s BAE Systems deal with Saudi Arabia.

It was reported that the Saudis had threatened to cancel the Eurofighter deal unless the probe was halted.

The UK government said the inquiry was dropped for national security reasons.

Yet critics attacked the move, saying the government had put commercial interest before ethics and had given in to Saudi blackmail.

'Slush funds'

BAE's 1980s Al Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia - thought to have been worth 40bn ($77bn) to the firm - involved Tornado and Hawk jets and a major airbase construction programme.

The Serious Fraud Office's probe centred on accusations that the company had used slush funds to sweeten the deal, something BAE strongly denied.

The Saudi's latest comments, the first since the Serious Fraud Office dropped its probe, were made by Prince Sultan bin Abdul, the country's defence minister.

Quoted by the official Saudi news agency, he said the 72 Eurofighter planes "will be sent to the kingdom very soon at specific dates".

The Eurofighter deal, which was negotiated between the UK Ministry of Defence and the Saudi government, is worth an estimated 10bn to BAE.

A separate Serious Fraud Office investigation is continuing into a 1999 contract between BAE and the South African government.


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