express.co.uk | Sep 21, 2011
By Richard Palmer
Prince Andrew has met with members of Bin Laden's family
PRINCE Andrew has met the family of slain Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden on a £40,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Saudi Arabia.
Two months after officially stepping down from his role as UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, Andrew is back fronting a trade mission despite controversy over his links with shady businessmen and a convicted paedophile.
The Duke of York is on a five-day trip to Saudi Arabia aimed at opening doors for British exporters in the kingdom. Last month Andrew, 51, a frequent visitor to the Arabian peninsula, was photographed frolicking in the sea and kissing a woman who looked at least 20 years his junior while enjoying a Mediterranean holiday on a superyacht owned by Saudi billionaire Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel.
UK Trade and Investment, the Government body that helps British exporters, has refused to say which companies stand to benefit from the trade trip, which Andrew has undertaken with Lord Stephen Green, Britain’s trade and investment minister.
Britain sends up to 75 per cent of its arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which earlier this year stamped down on pro-democracy activists eager to spread the Arab Spring revolutions to the kingdom. The Saudi military also went to the aid of the beleaguered King of Bahrain and brutally repressed pro-democracy protesters in the country, reportedly using UK-manufactured armoured vehicles.
Buckingham Palace and UKTI both insisted that the Prince was not taking part in any meetings involving arms deals but did not rule out the possibility that others on the trip could be discussing exporting weapons to the kingdom.
The palace and UKTI were at loggerheads over who was paying for the trip. A spokeswoman for UKTI insisted that the trade body was not paying for any of the Prince’s visit. She said, as far as she knew, Andrew was paying for it out of his own pocket.
However, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said the cost of Andrew’s return flight in an executive jet from Farnborough to Saudi Arabia would be met by taxpayers via the Department of Transport’s royal travel grant-in-aid to the palace. “His in-country costs (ie hotel bills and expenses) will be picked up by UKTI,” he added.
The palace refused to disclose Andrew’s itinerary, citing security reasons, but his offical meetings have been recorded in the Court Circular.
It shows that Andrew enjoyed lunch in Jeddah on Tuesday at the offices of Saudi Binladen Group, the firm created by Osama Bin Laden’s father Mohammed, who spread his wealth among more than 50 of his children including the Al Qaeda leader.
Since the early 1990s, however, the firm has sought to distance itself from Osama Bin Laden. It fought off legal attempts by survivors, relatives and insurers to make it financially liable for the devastation caused by the September 11 attacks after persuading US courts that it had deprived Osama of his two per cent stake in the firm as early as 1993.
Andrew stepped down from his trade envoy role amid controversy over his friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy America who helped his ex-wife the Duchess of York to pay off her spiralling debts, and other figures, including deposed Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif.
However, aides insisted that he, like other members of the Royal Family, would continue to support British businesses at home and abroad.
UKTI said the Saudi trip was partly a re-hash of a trade mission postponed in March amid security concerns after widespread political unrest in the region. A spokeswoman added: “The Duke of York is attending part of the trade mission to the Middle East. He continues to work closely with UKTI to promote international trade and investment and British businesses continue to benefit from his support.
“The Duke and Lord Green are undertaking a joint visit. This enables them to meet with a larger number of contacts than would otherwise be the case, in a country that is one of our major trading partners.
“The Duke is undertaking some visits which were in planning stages when he announced that he was stepping down from the role. The Royal Visits Committee has agreed that he should honour these commitments.”
Later, UKTI claimed it had been confused about the funding for the trip and admitted that taxpayers were footing the bill for Andrew.