The transparency organization WikiLeaks just released a new document that sheds light on the corruption behind a lucrative French-German arms deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), weapons that are currently being used to wage a disastrous and genocidal war against the people of Yemen.
The document details a court case from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Court of Arbitration regarding a dispute over a “commission payment” made to Abbas Ibrahim Yousef Al-Yousef, an Emirati businessman, as part of a $3.6 billion arms deal between France’s state-owned weapons company Nexter Systems (then GIAT Industries SA) and the UAE. Per the deal, which was signed in 1993 and set to conclude in 2008, the UAE purchased 388 Leclerc combat tanks, 46 armored vehicles, 2 training tanks, and spare parts, as well as ammunition.
Those weapons have been an important part of the UAE and Saudi coalition’s war in Yemen since it began in 2015. The war has killed over ten thousand civilians, largely the result of the Saudi/UAE bombing campaign, which has targeted and crippled the country’s civilian infrastructure. The result of those bombings, as well as of the UAE/Saudi blockade of Yemen, has been over 17 million people near starvation – including 5.2 million children – and preventable disease epidemics that have claimed tens of thousands of additional lives.
The court case described in the leaked document resulted from a claim made by Al-Yousef that Nexter Systems had failed to honor its commitment to pay him a 6.5 percent commission fee on the arms deal, amounting to a $235 million dollars. Nexter Systems made payments regularly for a period of time to the Emirati businessman, totalling over $195 million, through Al-Yousef’s company, Kenoza Consulting & Management Inc. Al-Yousef demanded that the company pay him the nearly $40 million that remained outstanding.
However, subsequent arguments from Nexter Systems’ lawyers asserted that payments stopped because of French anti-corruption legislation enacted in 2000, and that Al-Yousef’s business “intended to commit and indeed committed corruption acts.” Nexter Systems effectively claimed in court that the exorbitant “commission fee” given to Al-Yousef was for the use of bribing government officials of the UAE and apparently other countries so that Nexter Systems could secure the $3.6 billion weapons contract. However, the ICC tribunal did not rule on this point, as they claimed that Nexter’s proof for this allegation lacked sufficient evidence.
Yet, the tribunal did seek to determine why Al-Yousef had been able to justify the excessive commission fee, especially considering that he did not play an important role in the development of the Leclerc tanks. In investigating this point, the tribunal found that Al-Yousef had convinced German officials to waive Germany’s then-ban on providing German-made weapons to Middle Eastern nations like the UAE — a necessary step, as the Leclerc tanks were fitted with German engines.
According to Al-Yousef’s witness statements, the way in which he obtained this waiver “involved decision-makers at the highest levels, both in France and Germany,” though Al-Yousef failed to remember the names of the German officials and claimed to have not met them directly.
The tribunal ultimately determined that there was no good reason for Al-Yousef’s exorbitant commission fee. Yet, the arguments from Nexter Systems as well as the statements from Al-Yousef himself regarding his “lobbying” of anonymous German officials, suggest that the approximate payment of $190 million was indeed used to commit “corruption acts.”
That was then, that is also now
Though the corruption detailed in the newly leaked document took place decades ago, it highlights how lucrative arms deals are often enough incentive for governments and private companies to bend the rules in order to ensure that weapons and payments for weapons continue to flow unimpeded.
France today – despite the gravity of the Yemen conflict and the clear involvement of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in committing war crimes – continues to supply the UAE/Saudi coalition with weapons, even though doing so violates its own laws. Indeed, a recent report published by French law firm Ancile Avocat asserted that France’s continued sale of weapons to the two Gulf countries responsible for the carnage and chaos in Yemen was a violation of France’s status as a signatory of the International Arms Trade Treaty, ratified in 2014.
Since the conflict in Yemen began, France’s government has argued that the UAE and the Saudis are using those weapons for “defensive purposes,” despite clear evidence to the contrary, suggesting that the French government is willing to turn a blind eye to the atrocities in Yemen in order to keep the weapons — and cash – flowing.