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Bahrain Spent £116,000 on Luxury Trips for British Politicians including “Alistair Burt” to Launder its Reputation

2018-03-08 - 10:38 p

Bahrain Mirror: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Emirates and other "autocratic" regimes with poor human rights records have spent nearly £700,000 in the last five years on luxury trips for MPs, prompting claims that British politicians are being used to the "launder the reputation" of some of the world's most repressive governments, the British "i news" newspaper revealed.

An analysis of donations received by Parliamentarians shows that a group of nine countries from Bahrain to Azerbaijan have lavished hospitality costing £660,762 on 182 MPs since 2013 - spending an average of nearly £4,000 per participant on perks that include first and business class flights and five-star hotels. More than 80 per cent of the MPs participating in the tours were from the Conservative Party.

Saudi Arabia and three other Gulf countries, all of them facing allegations of human rights violations, accounted for the four largest spenders on foreign trips by autocratic regimes, according to the data from the Register of Members' Interests. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has spent £124,000 since 2013, Bahrain £116,000 and Qatar £106,000.

But campaign groups said that the spending raised serious concerns about a concerted public relations strategy to target MPs and improve the image of repressive regimes in the Middle East and beyond.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, which obtained the figures, said: "This is reputation laundering in action. These regimes are not spending so much money on expensive flights and hotels for MPs in order to be kind. They are doing it to win friends and increase their influence in Westminster. If MPs want to stand up for human rights and democracy, then they should not accept fancy flights and hospitality from despots and dictatorships."

Several of the tours were undertaken by All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) for specific countries while a number of others funded attendance at international forums funded by host governments such as Bahrain's Manama Dialogue, run in conjunction with think-tank IISS.

Among the most prolific attendees on foreign tours have been Alistair Burt, who has been a junior Foreign Office minister for the Middle East since last June. Mr. Burt undertook nine paid-for trips since 2013, including five to UAE (among them a £10,000 visit last November accompanied by his wife to attend a foreign policy forum) and three to Bahrain.

Visits were also undertaken by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Eton and Harvard-educated senior aide to Chancellor Philip Hammond. Mr Kwarteng made six visits, including two to Saudi Arabia and three to Bahrain.

In a statement, the Bahraini government's National Communication Centre said: "Bahrain enjoys good relationships with many countries around the world, including the United Kingdom. As part of this relationship visits are made by Members of Parliament for both sides in order to maintain and strengthen this bilateral partnership."

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