The Justice Department escalated its politically explosive investigation into BAE Systems' role in the $2 billion bribery scandal involving alleged illegal payments to former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, in return for the sale of jet fighters to the Saudi government.
BAE confirmed today that chief executive Mike Turner and director Nigel Rudd were detained by U.S. officials when they landed last week at Houston's George Bush International Airport. They were later released and allowed to leave the country. Reports say U.S. authorities confiscated and copied information on the executives' laptop computers, cell phones, and papers. The DOJ has also reportedly served additional subpoenas in the U.S. on employees of BAE Systems PLC and BAE Systems Inc. The DOJ's investigation centers on alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering.
Britain's Serious Fraud Office dropped its investigation of BAE in 2006. The High Court last month ruled that the SFO acted illegally when it shut down the investigation, but allowed the SFO to appeal the decision to the House of Lords. That appeal is pending. Evidence in the High Court showed that Prince Bandar threatened to stop Saudi Arabia's cooperation with the U.K. on counter-terrorism unless the SFO ended its investigation. The High Court strongly criticized the government's capitulation. It said, "No one within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice."