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Entries in United Kingdom (103)

Wednesday
Apr092008

British High Court Slams Decision To Drop BAE Investigation

The U.K. Guardian reports today (here) that the British High Court has ruled in scathing language that the decision by the Serious Fraud Office to drop an investigation into bribery allegations involving BAE Systems and Saudi Prince Bandar was improper. The court said it will issue orders for further action later.

For anyone new to this story, British defense contractor BAE Systems is accused of paying £1 billion to the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar (who allegedly passed money to other officials), in return for help selling Typhoon jet fighters to the Saudi government. The Serious Fraud Office started an investigation but Prime Minister Tony Blair shut it down last year, citing national security. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice picked up the investigation and started gathering evidence about possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations directly from British witnesses. Both BAE and Prince Bandar have denied violating any laws.

The SFO's decision to drop its investigation was challenged earlier this year in court by public interest groups. The High Court in London heard in mid February "unchallenged allegations that it was Prince Bandar, the alleged beneficiary of £1bn in secret payments from the arms giant BAE, who threatened to cut off intelligence on terrorists if the investigation into him and his family was not stopped. Investigators said they were given to understand there would be 'another 7/7' and the loss of 'British lives on British streets' if they carried on delving into the payments. The government argued . . . that these threats were so 'grave' and put Britain's security in such 'imminent' threat that the head of the Serious Fraud Office had no option but to shut down his investigation immediately."

In the lead up to February's High Court hearings, the Guardian almost single-handedly kept the story alive. Here are excerpts from today's report:

_______________

In a stunning victory for the activist groups that launched the legal challenge, the two judges said Tony Blair's government and the SFO caved in too readily to threats by Saudi Arabia over intelligence sharing and trade.

In an often scathing judgement, Lord Justice Moses and Justice Sullivan rejected the SFO's argument that it was powerless to resist the Saudi threats.

"So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage," they said.

"Had such a threat been made by one who was subject to the criminal law of this country, he would risk being charged with an attempt to pervert the course of justice."

To give in so easily, the judges said, "merely encourages those with power, in a position of strategic and political importance, to repeat such threats, in the knowledge that the courts will not interfere with the decision of a prosecutor to surrender".

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Corner House Research had sought a review of the decision by the SFO director, Robert Wardle, in December 2006 to drop the investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption over the £43bn Al-Yamamah arms deal, signed in 1985.

"No one, whether in this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice," Moses and Sullivan ruled. . . .

The judges ruled that the SFO decision was unlawful but made no formal orders for further action - something they will consider at a further hearing. It is believed the most likely course will be that the SFO will have to reconsider its decision.

They had harsh words for the attitude of the SFO and the Blair government in never even considering the option of telling the Saudis their threats would be ignored.

"No-one suggested to those uttering the threat that it was futile, that the United Kingdom's system of democracy forbad pressure being exerted on an independent prosecutor whether by the domestic executive or by anyone else; no-one even hinted that the courts would strive to protect the rule of law and protect the independence of the prosecutor by striking down any decision he might be tempted to make in submission to the threat."

At a two-day hearing in February, lawyers for CAAT and Corner House argued that the SFO dropped its investigation due to Saudi Arabian pressure that amounted to diplomatic blackmail.

Blair, the then prime minister, said the Saudis had privately threatened to cut intelligence cooperation over terrorism unless the inquiry was stopped.

The government did not dispute this version of events, the judges noted in their ruling.

They decided that Wardle "was required to satisfy the court that all that could reasonably be done had been done to resist the threat", and said: "He has failed to do so." . . .

David Leigh, the Guardian's investigations editor, said: "The Guardian unearthed and published the facts about BAE's dealings with Saudi Arabia as long ago as 2004. We passed our evidence to the SFO, who embarked on a long inquiry.

"Recently we also decided to name Prince Bandar as the recipient of £1bn from BAE. We are very pleased that today's high court judgment vindicates all the work the Guardian has done in the public interest to expose this scandal."

The judges were told Prince Bandar, a Saudi national security adviser allegedly involved in the bribery, was behind threats to hold back information about potential suicide bombers and terrorists. . . .

__________________

View prior posts about BAE and Prince Bandar here.

Sunday
Feb242008

BAE And Prince Bandar Stay In The News

In mid-February the British High Court heard how Saudi Arabia threatened to end all anti-terrorism cooperation with the U.K. unless the Blair government quashed an investigation into alleged corruption. A social justice advocacy group called the Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Corner House has alleged that the government acted unlawfully in December 2006 when it told the Serious Fraud Office to stand down. After two days of hearings, the court is now considering whether to order the SFO to re-open its examination into BAE System's alleged illegal payments to Saudi Arabian officials in exchange for the sale of jet fighters.

The U.K. Guardian reported that the two-judge High Court panel "heard unchallenged allegations that it was Prince Bandar, the alleged beneficiary of £1bn in secret payments from the arms giant BAE, who threatened to cut off intelligence on terrorists if the investigation into him and his family was not stopped. Investigators said they were given to understand there would be 'another 7/7' and the loss of 'British lives on British streets' if they carried on delving into the payments. The government argued . . . that these threats were so 'grave' and put Britain's security in such 'imminent' threat that the head of the Serious Fraud Office had no option but to shut down his investigation immediately."

The U.K. government's decision to end the investigation drew criticism from the OECD and apparently spurred Swiss authorities to look into possible breaches of anti-money laundering laws and American prosecutors to examine whether there were violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Both BAE and Prince Bandar have denied breaking any laws.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported on February 9 that a United States federal district court has temporarily blocked Prince Bandar -- the former Saudi ambassador to the United States and now head of Saudi Arabia's National Security Council -- from removing real estate sales proceeds from the U.S. pending resolution of a class-action lawsuit. "The suit filed last September by a tiny Michigan city retirement system accuses current and former directors of BAE Systems PLC, a giant British defense company, of breaches of fiduciary duties in connection with $2 billion or more in alleged illegal bribes paid to Bandar in connection with an $86 billion BAE arms sale to Saudi Arabia in 1985. Bandar also is named as a defendant in the suit, along with the former Riggs Bank of Washington and its successor, PNC Financial Group. BAE and Bandar have strongly denied that illegal payments were made to Bandar."

The AP story said U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer issued "a temporary restraining order, signed Feb. 5, that the suit by the City of Harper Woods Employees' Retirement System raises serious questions of law that warrant a temporary order keeping Bandar from taking the proceeds of real estate sales out of U.S.-based accounts. . . . The retirement system suit maintains that Bandar used funds illicitly obtained from BAE Systems to acquire U.S. real estate, including a Colorado ranch and mansion once placed on the market at $135 million and the former William Randolph Hearst mansion in California, offered for sale last summer at $165 million."

The same AP story reported developments in the U.K. this way: "In London, lawmakers disclosed last month that Britain's head of overseas intelligence had warned that Saudi Arabia probably would stop sharing vital information on terrorism if prosecutors pursued an investigation into alleged corruption in the arms deal. MI6, Britain's overseas intelligence service, believed Saudi Arabia would probably end information-sharing with Britain if investigators continued the inquiry, former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith told the committee. MI6 raised objections to the prosecution before Britain's Serious Fraud Office decided to end the case, he said."

View the February 16, 2008 report from the Guardian here.

View the February 9, 2008 report from the Associated Press here.

View prior posts about BAE Systems here.

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.

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