Sensationally, it has emerged that former British Prime Minister David Cameron went on a desert camping holiday with Mohammed Bin Salman despite Western intelligence agencies naming the Saudi Crown Prince as being the man who ordered the death of dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
The jaunt in the Saudi desert happened just weeks before the global pandemic lockdowns started in March last year, which brought a halt to international travel. According to a report in the Financial Times, the two men were joined by controversial Australian financier Lex Greensill, who was employing Cameron at the time.
Cameron is described these days as a businessman, lobbyist, and author. He served as Prime Minister from 2010 to 2016. As news of his desert trip emerged, he could not be contacted for a comment, which suggests that he is avoiding the media.
News of the trip emerged after the collapse of Greensill's financial services company, Greensill Capital. Cameron is an adviser and shareholder of the company. Before it went under, the former Conservative Party leader tried to persuade the current Conservative government to bail out Greensill with emergency coronavirus support loans. His lobbying on Greensill's behalf included sending several text messages to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, plus running a series of online meetings with other senior British government officials.
Opposition MPs have urged their Conservative colleagues on the Treasury Select Committee to hold an investigation into the company's collapse. Such a probe would leave Cameron exposed and facing questions about his advisory role with Greensill.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng appeared to be unfazed about the issue when he spoke to journalists about the former prime minister's links to Greensill Capital: "I think people have looked at this. As far as I know, David Cameron did absolutely nothing wrong."
Kwarteng may be right on one level, but what many of us find alarming and unpalatable is that a former British prime minister would go on a desert holiday with the man alleged to have given the go-ahead for the brutal murder and dismemberment of Saudi-born Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Amazingly, Cameron appears to have no qualms over the company he keeps. We are left to wonder if he gave Khashoggi's murder a second thought during his holiday. The whereabouts of the journalist's remains have never been revealed, but by as early as November 2018, just weeks after the killing, US intelligence agents concluded that Bin Salman had ordered the murder. This much was made known at the time — so there is no way that Cameron could have been unaware of it — but the Trump administration sat on the official report, which was only made public by US President Joe Biden in February.
In 2019, Cameron visited Saudi Arabia to attend the so-called Davos in the Desert summit in Riyadh even though many international companies had pulled out in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. Very few people wanted to be seen in the Saudi capital with Bin Salman. Cameron and then US President Donald Trump were notable exceptions; Trump even voiced support for the crown prince. Amnesty International blasted the visit and Cameron's participation, which the organisation said could only be seen as "showing support for the Saudi regime" despite its terrible human rights record.
Last June, a senior Greensill Capital executive spoke publicly about the company's partnership with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, describing it as "part of the family" of the sovereign wealth fund. Greensill was said at that time to be seeking to open offices in the Saudi capital and was making inquiries about having a business line or contract with the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco. It actually established ties with Saudi Arabia in 2019.
What sort of scruples and morals come into play when someone leaves Downing Street? Human rights certainly didn't seem to be the first thing on the mind of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has happily offered his services to some of the worst human rights abusers in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa since leaving Number 10.
We must all continue to condemn and deplore the dictators and tyrants who routinely ignore human rights and violate the basic rights of their citizens. However, there should also be a greater degree of scrutiny and sanctions for those who serve in a high office elsewhere and empower such abusers and allow them to go unpunished. The friendship of Western presidents and prime ministers is craved by such despots, who seek a degree of legitimacy by association. Justifications such as "national interests" and "business deals" must surely, post-Khashoggi, be unacceptable as we let Western enablers of tyranny know that they should pay a very high price when they leave office and the immunity it apparently bestows.
At the time of writing, David Cameron was remaining tight-lipped about his camping holiday with Bin Salman.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.