UK court condemns fraud probe



A British court ruled on Thursday that the country's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully in ending investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption in arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

 

Two judges allowed a challenge brought by anti-arms campaigners, the Corner House Research Group and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CATT), over the case involving Europe's biggest defence company, BAE Systems Plc.

 

Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair drew widespread criticism from political opponents and the media after saying that if the SFO had proceded with its investigation, it would damage Britain's national security.

 

The campaigners had claimed there was "very large scale bribery" of senior Saudi Arabian officials by the British arms manufacturer over the massive Al Yamamah military contracts.

 

They argued that the SFO abandoned its investigation following threats by members of the Saudi Arabian royal family to cancel a proposed order for Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and to withdraw security and intelligence co-operation.

 

"To preserve the integrity and independence of the judgment demanded resistance to the pressure exerted by means of a specific threat," one of the judges, Lord Justice Moses, told the High Court in London.

 

"That threat was intended to prevent the [SFO] director from pursuing the course of investigation he had chosen to adopt. It achieved its purpose," Moses said.

 

"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," he said.

 

Asked for the company's reaction, a BAE spokeswoman said: "The case was between two campaign groups and the director of the SFO. It concerned the legality of a decision made by the director of the SFO. BAE Systems played no part in that decision."

 

The SFO had no immediate comment and Saudi Arabian envoys in London could not be reached. (Reuters)

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