Who said what to whom at a meeting in the Shangri-La hotel in Dubai last month?
That question has assumed big significance in legal actions in the US and London, and it has repercussions for investors in the GCC. The answer could also determine the fate of some potentially life-saving biotechnology affecting the health of thousands of hospital patients around the world.
The meeting took place on June 17 at the hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. We know the names of at least two of the people present: Dr Liam Fox and Harvey Boulter.
Dr Fox is the UK's minister of defence and a member of the cabinet. He has a tough job in these difficult times, trying to balance the demands of his government's austerity measures, which require millions of pounds of cuts from the country's armed services, with the needs of service members on active duty around the world, especially in Afghanistan.
Mr Boulter is an entrepreneur who has been based in Dubai for the past five years after a stint in Hong Kong. His area of expertise is the commercialisation of projects and technologies developed by the defence industry. A former investment banker in the City of London, he has helped to bring several projects to profitable fruition, to his own benefit and that of the UK public exchequer.
One such was BacLite, a technology developed by the British ministry of defence (MoD) as a test for biochemical weaponry in battlefield conditions.
Mr Boulter's private-equity fund Porton Group (backed significantly by some powerful investors in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) acquired a controlling stake in BacLite from the MoD in 2005. He and his scientific experts believed that BacLite could also be a weapon against a disease called MRSA, caused by a bacterium that attacks humans, especially in hospitals.
By 2006, Mr Boulter had found a buyer for BacLite, in the shape of the US giant 3M. The Minnesota group is best known for its Post-it notes and Scotch tape but is also involved in a host of "innovative" industrial processes, including medical products.
What happened thereafter is the subject of legal action in the US and the UK. Mr Boulter claims 3M reneged on a deal to pay as much as £51 million (Dh306.9m), depending on BacLite's commercial performance over three years.
3M denies this and says instead that BacLite never lived up to expectations. Trials by the US food and drugs administrator showed a lower success rate in detecting MRSA than previous tests in Europe, 3M says.
In the barrage of claim and counterclaim that has followed, nothing has so far been conclusively proved. Mr Boulter wants the balance of the £51m.
3M, headed by the British businessman Sir George Buckley, seems equally determined not to stump up. The courts will decide.
What was said, or not said, at the Shangri-La may have a bearing on the court's decision. Apart from the commercial suits, there are also legal actions for defamation and blackmail going on in the US and the UK. There is no need to go into the details of those allegations here.
The MoD says that "Dr Fox met with Mr Boulter to discuss an entirely different matter. At no point did he enter into discussion about this legal case".
It could be assumed the MoD is referring to the commercial litigation going on over BacLite, but that is not clear from the statement.
Mr Boulter, meanwhile, is adamant that BacLite was discussed, for five minutes out of a 45-minute meeting, and says he has a couple of witnesses to back him up. He denies any blackmail allegations.
But if there was no discussion of BacLite, what did they meet to talk about? The MoD has not, so far, answered that one. Why did Dr Fox take time out from his tour of the region, which included a trip to Afghanistan, to meet Mr Boulter if not to discuss the burning question of the day? Who else was at the meeting?
So many questions from the Shangri-La meeting. It's time the MoD came up with some answers.