Diplomats failed to disclose their own Arab links
By Chris Hastings, David Bamber and Roya Nikkhah
Some of the most prominent former diplomats who condemned Tony Blair's policies in the Middle East have business links with Arab governments, The Telegraph can reveal.
In a letter published last week, 52 former British diplomats condemned the invasion of Iraq and the Government's support for Israel.
The letter failed to disclose, however, that several of the key signatories, including Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya who instigated the letter, are paid by pro-Arab organisations.
Some of the others hold positions in companies seeking lucrative Middle East contracts, while others have unpaid positions with pro-Arab organisations.
The disclosure last night prompted allegations - denied by the diplomats - that they were merely promoting the interests of their clients. Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP for Hendon, said: "If an MP had made statements like these without declaring an interest in the subject they would have been before the standards and privileges committee we would have had their guts for garters.
"This casts a very different light on what the former diplomats have said."
The letter attacked new peace proposals announced by President Bush and Ariel Sharon as "one-sided and illegal". It warned that the measures would cost "yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood".
The signatories said they had watched with "deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israeli problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States. There is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure".
Mr Miles is the chairman and a director of the London-based MEC International, which promotes business opportunities in the Middle East. He has a 10 per cent holding in the company and although he draws no actual salary he will receive Â£10,000 this year in consultancy fees from the firm.
According to the company's website, MEC has been commissioned to produce reports for the Saudi Arabian Export Promotions Board and the Gulf Co-operation Council. An offshoot of the firm, called AIM, has carried out work for the government of Bahrain.
The website also lists the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council, the Arab League and the National Bank of Egypt as among MEC's clients.
Mr Miles last night insisted that he had no personal knowledge of these contracts and that they had not influenced him in drawing up the letter, although he admitted that the signatories were "slanted" towards Arabists.
"MEC earns its money from the market, from companies and foundations, some of which are no doubt financed by Arab governments.
"I am proud of my business links with the Arab world and would be happy to work for any Arab government. I am in contact with all the Arab ambassadors in London and a number of their embassies have been able to offer hospitality to MEC International."
Mr Miles said that until this year he had drawn up to Â£4,000 annually from the company. He said the payments were not sufficient to "corrupt" and had nothing to do with his decision to organise the open letter. He added: "The eventual letter is slanted towards Arabists.
"But that was more to do with the practicalities of the exercise rather than anything else. Because of my activities with the company I have maintained contact with former Middle East colleagues, which has made networking as far as the letter is concerned easier."
Mr Miles, who drafted the letter while on business in Tripoli, said that he had been appearing at a conference at which he was an unpaid guest speaker. He said that he had paid for his own travel to the Libyan capital.
Other signatories to the letter also have links to Arab organisations. Sir Archie Lamb, who was ambassador to Kuwait between 1974 and 1977, is a paid non-executive director of the international section of the Bank of Kuwait. He has been with the bank for 14 years, but declined to say how much he was paid for his work. He denied, however, that his links with Kuwait's biggest financial institution had influenced his decision to sign the letter.
"I am a British subject and my entire career has been about protecting and promoting Britain. British interests will only be attended to by a settlement of the Israeli-Palestine issue, not by making it worse, as Mr Bush and Mr Sharon are doing."
Sir Graham Boyce, who was ambassador to Kuwait between 1996 and 1999, is vice-chairman of VT International Services.
This is part of the VT group, which has contracts with the Qatar emiri navy, the United Arab Emirates, the Jordanian navy, the Royal Brunei armed forces and the Egyptian navy. Only last year, the parent company won a lucrative contract to supply coastguard vessels to Oman. Sir Graham was unavailable for comment.
Sir Alan Munro, the former British ambassador to Algeria, admitted that he had a "salaried position" advising companies on how to break into the Saudi Arabian market, but declined to say how much he was paid.
Sir Alan also works for the Joint Arab-British Chamber of Commerce and the Middle East International Publishers, although these are voluntary positions.
"I am called upon to address conferences around the world. I don't get a penny, but my travel and hotel accommodation are provided," said Sir Alan. "But none of this has anything to do with why I and others signed the letter. Those who say it is are barking up the wrong tree. I got involved because I am deeply worried about where Britain is heading in this part of the world."
The conflict in Iraq is, however, having a detrimental impact on the London-based Joint Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, a private company that exists to forge closer links between British and Middle East businesses.
The most recent set of accounts for the company, which has Sir Alan Munro on its board of directors, says the situation in Iraq has depressed trade, which in turn has contributed to its own continued loss-making.
The same document, however, notes that: "The Arab ambassadors have, as usual, given us much support for which were are very grateful.
The ambassadors share the same objectives as we have and we pledge ourselves to do all we can to help with their achievement." Other signatories are also prominent in organisations that have received substantial payments from Arab governments.
Sir Terence Clark, a former ambassador to Iraq and Oman, is the volunteer chairman of the Anglo-Omani Society, which has received Â£70,000 from the Sultan of Oman, the organisation's patron.
Sir David Blatherwick, a former ambassador to Egypt, is an unpaid director of the Egyptian British Chamber of Commerce. Over the past 18 months this private company has received Â£50,000 from the Egyptian government. A spokesman for the company said the money was in exchange for work carried out.