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Concern raised over Saudi interference in UK leadership contest 

July 9, 2019 at 3:24 pm

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt hold a joint press conference after their meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, Germany on 23 July, 2018 [Abdülhamid Hoşbaş/Anadolu Agency]

Concern over Saudi interference in the Conservative leadership contest has been raised following revelations that a UK point man in Riyadh with close ties to Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman made donations to British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In May, Hunt accepted over $12,000 from Ken Costa, a man who is thought to be a close associate of the crown prince and has been described as the “linchpin” of the partnership between London and Riyadh. The donation, which has drawn criticism from Labour, is recorded in the July Register of Members’ Financial Interest.

Labour has called on Hunt to return the money and the party is said to have raised questions about the appropriateness of a serving UK government official donating to a party political campaign. Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the parliamentary committee on arms exports controls, told BuzzFeed News: “Serious questions need to be raised if the foreign secretary is taking money from Saudi interests to finance his bid to become prime minister.”

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“Hunt needs to give back the money immediately and pledge to not accept future donations that could interfere with his day job of running the foreign office.”

According to BuzzFeed , Costa helped set up a UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council meeting when the Crown Prince toured the UK during a controversial visit in 2018. During his trip the de-facto Saudi ruler launched a huge charm offensive to win the hearts of Londoners by blitzing the capital with an ad campaign.

Hunt’s role in an attempt by Conservative ministers to overturn a landmark UK court ruling banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia has come into question. The foreign secretary and his rival Boris Johnson, who occupied the role prior to Hunt, have been accused of illegally signing off on Saudi arms exports and of failing to properly assess the risk of selling British weapons to the kingdom on Yemeni civilians. Tens of thousands of been killed by Saudi air raids on its southern neighbour with weapons supplied by the UK.