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Entries in BAE Systems (99)

Sunday
Dec022007

The Empty Chair

It's official. Britain's absence from the global war on public corruption is now a full-fledged scandal. Nearly ten years after the U.K. ratified the Anti-Bribery Convention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there hasn't been a single British prosecution. And as England shirks, its friends are both baffled and alarmed.

The only investigation of overseas graft launched by the Serious Fraud Office involved BAE's alleged billion-pound bribe to Saudi royals. But Prime Minister Tony Blair quashed the inquiry last year, spooking the international community. As the Wall Street Journal said, "The OECD, which isn't prone to naming and shaming uncooperative member states took the unusual step of voicing 'serious concerns.' But that didn't move Mr. Blair, who warned the probe could harm relations with Saudi Arabia." The New York Times reported that during the OECD's recent tenth anniversary celebration of the Anti-Bribery Convention in Rome, its head, Angel Gurria, said "national security concerns — the reason Mr. Blair gave for terminating the BAE investigation in Britain — 'should not be used' as a reason for quashing bribery investigations. He also voiced concern that anti-corruption efforts were in danger of weakening. "

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice is finding creative ways to work around recalcitrant U.K. prosecutors. The Americans have opened their own investigation of BAE, collecting evidence by flying at least one British witness to Washington, routing him through Paris to avoid attention. When that maneuver came to light, how did Whitehall react? It protested to U.S. authorities and warned the witness to mind his manners.

What's behind Britain's bizarre behavior? We remember the Middle East in the 1980s, where the partnership between the British Foreign Office and big U.K. companies was unspoken but evident. To the envy of Americans and others, Her Majesty's Government went door-to-door with British salesmen, helping them hawk their goods and services to the region's oil-rich regimes. We thought the arrangement was a useful remnant from the days of the East India Company and the Raj. But was it less benign than we assumed?

The question has to be asked: Does the U.K. government fight overseas bribery or promote it? The answer is crucial. After all, if Britain is thumbing its nose from the sidelines, why should new recruits like South Korea and Germany stick around for the battle? What moral authority will the OECD have to lecture Nigeria or Kazakhstan about the importance of the rule of law? Why should Australia, France or China worry what their citizens do abroad, if the British government is already doing worse? And what about that level playing field American business people -- who are bound by the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- were promised decades ago?

In April 2005, the smart folks at the White Collar Crime Prof Blog reported the OECD's unusual criticism of the U.K.: "[The OECD's progress] report notes that 'given the size of the UK economy and its level of exports and outward FDI, along with its involvement in international business transactions in sectors and countries that are at high risk for corruption, it is surprising that no company or individual has been indicted or tried for the offence of bribing a foreign public official since the ratification of the Convention by the UK.'" [emphasis added]

Nothing has changed since those words were written. So today we're also asking: Where is Britain in the global battle against public corruption?

View the November 21, 1997 OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions Here.

View (by subscription) the November 28, 2007 Wall Street Journal Article Here.

View the November 25, 2007 New York Times Article Here.

View the April 4, 2005 White Collar Crime Prof Blog Post Here.

View the March 17, 2005 OECD Country Report on the U.K. Here.

Monday
Nov262007

Will The Local Law Defense Help BAE?

BAE Systems is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It allegedly paid £1 billion to Saudi Prince Bandar in return for his helping BAE sell 72 Typhoon jet fighters to Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar may have moved a lot of the money through U.S. bank accounts and -- with BAE's knowledge -- to other members of the Saudi royal family. Those relatives -- along with the prince himself -- presumably are "foreign officials" for purposes of the FCPA. That could make the payments illegal. So if BAE is prosecuted, what defenses can it raise?

One might be the rarely-spotted local law defense. The FCPA allows otherwise prohibited payments if the "payment, gift, offer, or promise of anything of value that was made, was lawful under the written laws and regulations of the foreign official’s" country. 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(c)(1), 78dd-2(c)(1) and 78dd-3(c)(1). This affirmative defense -- one of only two -- was added to the FCPA in 1988. But it only works if the payment is legal under the written laws of the country in question -- a hurdle that has rendered the defense practically useless except in industry-specific scenarios, such as drug trials paid for by foreign pharmaceuticals but managed by government-employed doctors.

The Notes to the 1988 House and Senate Conference Agreement say in relation to the local law defense: "The House receded to the Senate, with an amendment to make it an affirmative defense that a payment to a foreign official is 'lawful under the written laws and regulations of the foreign official's country.' [emphasis in original] The Conferees wish to make clear that the absence of written laws in a foreign official's country would not by itself be sufficient to satisfy this defense. In interpreting what is 'lawful under the written laws and regulations,' the Conferees intend that the normal rules of legal construction would apply."

We doubt there are any laws or regulations now on the books in Saudi Arabia that would expressly permit members of the royal family to earn a commission on arms sales to the government. But would the King issue a decree -- the country is a true monarchy, after all -- that retroactively authorizes and approves the BAE payments? We don't know the answer. But the question is sure to raise issues for Saudi Arabia and its royal family that are well above our pay grade. Meanwhile, we imagine BAE is giving this some serious attention as it plots its potential defense strategy.

View the Notes to the 1988 House and Senate Conference Agreement Here.

Sunday
Nov252007

The U.S. Is Gathering Evidence Against BAE

The U.K. and Saudi governments deny that any laws -- including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- were broken. But questions persist about the £1 billion payment earlier this year by U.K. defense giant BAE Systems to Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., for brokering his country's purchase of 72 Typhoon jet fighters.

The November 26, 2007 online edition of the Guardian newspaper now says the U.S. Department of Justice obtained documents from Swiss banking sources and more evidence from a U.K. businessman who was part of the deal. "According to US sources," the Guardian says, "businessman Peter Gardiner, who possesses boxes of invoices allegedly detailing payments made by BAE to members of the Saudi royal family, was flown by FBI agents to Washington on August 20 to give testimony there. It was arranged for him to travel via Paris to avoid British attention. Department of [J]ustice investigators are also seeking out the location of other potential witnesses from the UK. When Washington's moves came to light, US sources say that protests were made by the British, and Gardiner was warned his testimony was 'contrary to international protocols'. Gardiner refuses to comment."

The Guardian and other sources also report that Prince Bandar has retained Louis Freeh, a former head of the FBI, to represent him. “There have been no charges filed,” Freeh said in an interview with a U.S. newspaper. “The prince denies any impropriety and violating any statutes in the United Kingdom or the United States.” Some of the payments being investigated reportedly involve deposits to U.S. bank accounts controlled by Prince Bandar directly or through the Saudi embassy.

BAE Systems describes itself on its website as "the premier global defence and aerospace company . . . . With 96,000 employees worldwide, BAE Systems' sales exceeded £15 billion (US $27 billion) in 2006." It says it's the 3rd largest global defense company and that its U.S. operations make it the 6th largest defense company in the United States.

If BAE or Prince Bandar or both are charged or threatened to be charged with violating the FCPA, will they assert as an affirmative defense that "the payment . . . that was made, was lawful under the written laws and regulations" of Saudi Arabia? If they can prove that, then they're off the hook.

View the Guardian's November 26, 2007 Story Here.

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