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UK ministers held secret meeting with weapons firm director supplying Saudi Arabia

Raytheon director Richard Paniguian attended Ministry of Defence's Gulf Advisory Group at height of Yemen war - but UK government says no records were kept
The Raytheon logo is seen on a building in Annapolis Junction, Maryland, on 11 March, 2019 (AFP)

A director at a major arms company supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia held an undisclosed meeting with British officials at the height of the war in Yemen but no record of what was said was kept, according to a report by Declassified UK on Thursday.

Richard Paniguian, then a director at Raytheon, attended a meeting of the Ministry of Defence's Gulf Advisory Group alongside Conservative MP Philip Dunne, a defence procurement minister, and Tobias Ellwood, then a foreign office minister, in January 2016, the investigative website revealed.

According to Declassified, the arms company executive advised them on policy towards the Gulf.

Paniguian was also a former head of the UK government's arms sales division, the Defence and Security Organisation. In July 2016, he was appointed chairman of Raytheon Systems Limited, a British subsidiary of the US weapons firm which is a major supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Paniguian died in June 2017 of a heart attack. 

The committee that didn't exist

Details about the existence of the Gulf Advisory Group only came to light following the publication earlier this year of the memoirs of another former foreign office minister, Alan Duncan.

Government ministers faced parliamentary questions on the matter after Duncan revealed in his book that he had attended a meeting of what he called a Gulf advisory committee alongside former UK military chief Charles Guthrie, a director of Gulf Keystone Petroleum, and Geoffrey Tantum, an adviser to King Hamad of Bahrain.

Bahrain is also part of the Saudi-led coalition that has waged war on Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015. 

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Ministers initially denied the committee's existence but later admitted there was a "Gulf Advisory Group" within the Ministry of Defence and said no records or minutes were kept of the meetings. 

"There was a meeting of the Gulf Advisory Group on 11 January 2016 of which Sir Richard Paniguian was an invitee," Jeremy Quin, a defence minister, wrote in reply to Labour MP Zarah Sultana.

"However, we hold no records of the minutes of this meeting and cannot, therefore, confirm attendance." 

Quin later confirmed to Sultana that Tantum was also invited to attend the meeting in January 2016 with Paniguian. He also confirmed to Sultana that the Gulf Advisory Group existed for two years until September 2018.

According to Declassified's report, neither Ellwood nor Dunne disclosed details of their meeting with Paniguian in department transparency records, despite a requirement for ministers to report meetings with representatives of arms firms.

MEE contacted the Ministry of Defence and Raytheon for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.