Activists Blast UK Government Over BAE Investigation
Documents released today – following court action by activist comedian Mark Thomas – reveal that the UK Government was prepared to break international law in order to terminate the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) inquiry into BAE’s dealings with Saudi Arabia.
The admission is made in the Government’s response to judicial review proceedings initiated by The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).  The groups argue that the SFO decision violated the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention, to which the UK is a signatory.
The Government denies any breach of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention – but declares that it would have taken the decision to terminate the SFO investigation regardless of any violation of international law. In its response, the Government states:
“It is true that the Director [of the SFO] considered, and remains of the view, that his decision to discontinue the investigation did not put the UK in breach of its international obligation [under the OECD Convention] . . . But this was not for him a critical or decisive matter: the threat to national and international security was such that, even if consideration of those matters had been contrary to that provision, he considered them to be of such compelling weight that he would still have taken the same decision.”
The Corner House and CAAT have today written to the OECD to draw its attention to the UK Government’s willingness to break the Convention, despite telling the OECD otherwise. In January 2007, the UK’s Attorney General had assured the OECD that the UK had complied with the Convention in making its decision to terminate the SFO’s BAE-Saudi inquiry:
“The SFO and the Attorney General at all times had regard to the requirements of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. In particular, as the Attorney’s statement makes clear, the considerations set out in Article 5 of the Convention played no part in the SFO’s decision to discontinue the investigation.”
Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House commented:
“We are genuinely shocked that the UK Government now asserts that it would have been prepared to breach the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and thus international law if it had stood in the way of terminating the inquiry into the BAE-Saudi affair."
Both CAAT and The Corner House dismiss arguments that continuation of the SFO inquiry would have endangered “British lives on British streets”, as claimed by the Government. Recent revelations in The Guardian newspaper and by BBC’s Panorama television programme strongly suggest that the source of the security fears was Prince Bandar – the very person whose receipt of funds from BAE was being investigated. They also point out that the Convention has no national security exemption.
Symon Hill of CAAT said:
“The British public will be staggered to learn that the Government was prepared to break international law for the sake of BAE and the regime in Saudi Arabia. BAE’s influence within Government is becoming ever more alarming. I have no doubt that the British people do not want BAE calling the shots.”
1. The Government had refused to sanction disclosure of its response to the judicial review proceedings. Mark Thomas, however, applied to the High Court for the document to be released. The High Court initially (18th June 2007) refused the application, but on 9th July 2007 allowed the Government's response to be released.
2. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. The Corner House is an environmental and social justice NGO. CAAT and The Corner House lodged the full grounds for their application for a judicial review on 18th April 2007.
3. Attorney General and Serious Fraud Office, ”Serious Fraud Office Investigation into BAE Systems – Note for the OECD by the Serious Fraud Office and Attorney General’s Office”
4. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States and is now Secretary-General of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council. He is the son of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who has been the Saudi Defence Minister since 1962.
UK Government Was Willing to Break International Law to Quash BAE Investigation