Court says dropping of BAE-Saudi Arabia probe was unlawful

10-04-2008

Court says dropping of BAE-Saudi Arabia probe was unlawful
The high court has ruled the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully by dropping its investigation into alleged Saudi Arabian slush fund payments at BAE Systems.

Judges described the termination of the probe as a "successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom".

"No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice. It is the failure of government and the defendant to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court," they claimed.

The SFO halted its corruption probe in December 2006, citing national security concerns.

Tony Blair's administration said Saudi Arabia was threatening to withdraw its support for counterterrorism operations unless the investigation was dropped.

The aborted investigation centred on BAE's al-Yamamah contract, a £43 billion deal signed in 1995 to supply jets and other arms to Riyadh.

An SFO statement at the time said: "This decision has been taken following representations that have been made both to the attorney general and the director of the SFO concerning the need to safeguard national and international security.

"It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest.

"No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest."

An SFO spokesperson on Thursday said the office was preparing to issue a response to the high court ruling.

BAE Systems reacted by insisting it "played no part" in the decision to probe the al-Yamamah probe.

"The case if between two campaign groups and the director of the SFO," a spokesperson said.

"It concerned the legality of a decision made by the director of the SFO."

The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have called on the SFO to reopen the BAE-Saudi corruption investigation.

Susan Hawley of The Corner House said it was "a great day for British justice".

Symon Hill, a spokesperson for CAAT, added: "It has been clear from the start that the dropping of the investigation was about neither national security nor jobs.

"It was due to the influence of BAE and Saudi princes over the UK government. As we have pursued this case, we have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from people in all walks of life, who do not want BAE to be above the law that the rest of us have to follow."

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