Prince Andrew's 'rudeness' stunned US ambassador
Prince Andrew used a private audience with a group of British businessmen to offer his "astonishingly candid" thoughts on the shortcomings of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), journalists and France, according to leaked diplomatic dispatches.
In his role as Britain's special trade representative, the Duke of York travels the world meeting foreign dignitaries to press the flesh on behalf of UK Plc. But while off duty during a visit with a British delegation to the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, Prince Andrew revealed his forthright personal views as he led a discussion that, according to an American diplomat, "verged on the rude".
An exhaustive account of a two-hour brunch held in a hotel in October 2008 with British and Canadian entrepreneurs shows how Prince Andrew railed against SFO corruption investigators for their "idiocy" in looking into an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and repeatedly implied that the French turned either a blind eye to, or indulged in, corruption. Tatiana Gfoeller, Washington's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan who had been invited to the meeting by her British counterpart, revealed in the confidential telegram that Prince Andrew had spoken "cockily", vowing to win a replay of the Great Game against Russia and China in the region while at the same time openly accusing the son of the Kyrgyz President of graft.
Ms Gfoeller, a veteran diplomat and academic who speaks six languages, wrote: "In an astonishing display of candour in a public hotel where the brunch was taking place, all of the businessmen then chorused that nothing gets done in Kyrgyzstan if President [Kurmanbek] Bakiyev's son Maxim does not get his 'cut'. Prince Andrew took up the topic with gusto, saying that he keeps hearing Maxim's name 'over and over again'."
Lawyers for Maxim Bakiyev, who is currently living in exile in Britain after fleeing Kyrgyzstan when his father was ousted this summer, said he "absolutely denies" the claims that he took a percentage from deals struck with local companies. Mr Bakiyev is seeking asylum in Britain.
In a passage entitled "Rude language a la British", the American ambassador described how Prince Andrew, 50, had warmed to his themes towards the end of the gathering. She wrote: "He turned to the general issue of promoting British economic interests abroad. He railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had the 'idiocy' of almost scuttling the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia."
Explaining that Prince Andrew was referring to the SFO's investigation into alleged kickbacks paid to a senior Saudi royal in return for the multi-year arms deal with BAE Systems, Ms Gfoeller said the businessmen "roared their approval" before Prince Andrew attacked "these [expletive] journalists... who poke their noses everywhere" and whose activities "presumably make it harder for British businessmen to do business". The ambassador noted: "The crowd practically clapped."
The discussion had earlier touched on allegations about the prevalence of corruption in Kyrgyzstan, provoking one businessman to liken the former Soviet satellite state to the Yukon in the 19th century: "ie only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make money."
The dispatch continued: "At this point the Duke of York laughed uproariously, saying that: 'All of this sounds exactly like France.' Andrew then made a second disparaging reference to France when the group complained that non-Western investors failed to demand improvement in Kyrgyz business practices, saying: 'They won't need to make any changes to attract the French either.'"
Ms Gfoeller credited Prince Andrew for his "cordiality and respect" towards her, before noting the effusive response towards him from his audience. She wrote: "On the way out, one of them confided to the ambassador: 'What a wonderful representative for the British people! We could not be prouder of our Royal Family.'"
The leaked cables also offer an insight into American views of the hierarchy in neighbouring Kazakhstan, where Prince Andrew has built cordial relations with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In an April 2009 memo, the ambassador, Richard Hoagland, said: "Corruption is endemic among Kazakhstani officialdom."
It was revealed earlier this year that Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of the Kazakh President, paid £15m for Prince Andrew's Surrey mansion, Sunninghill Park, which had been on the market for a long period. The sum was £3m over the asking price.