On the 30th July the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords delivered their legal verdict on the Serious Fraud Office’s decision to cancel the now famous corruption investigation into Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems. Having been present at the hearing, I had heard the very eloquent and erudite arguments put forth by CAAT and The Corner House’s legal team. Thus it was with considerable chagrin I discovered the Law Lords had contradicted the superlative glory of the High Court judgement last summer.
Central to the case was the apparent disregard shown to article 5 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention, which the UK is a signatory to. Although not incorporated into UK law, the Director of the SFO and the Attorney General both publicly avowed that the decision to discontinue the investigation was taken with the OECD Anti-bribery Convention in mind and, crucially, that the decision was permitted under its terms. However, it was later argued in the courtroom that had these actions breached the treaty after all, they would have continued regardless and broken it.
These legalistic twists and turns may seem obtusely technical and as tediously tricky as a vegetarian debating whether or not they can eat fish. But there is a simple moral principle at the heart of it all. It’s a bit like the behaviour a particular environmentalist i know, who insists that he washes so infrequently out of respect a caring respect for the planet’s finite resources. However the trouble is as soon as the next pretty, young, dreadlocked lady bats half an eyelid his way at a gig, our bathroom begins to resemble a Swedish sauna with a built in steam engine museum. Like my compatriot, the government should not be able to pay lip service to the veneer of a progressive agenda, only to abandon it when it suits them.
Also central to the courts findings were the unsubstantiated threats to British national security issued by the Saudi Government. In the courtroom our legal team pointed out the inherent contradiction in this, by quoting from some very eloquent and long winded speeches made by prominent Saudis. In them they articulately expressed their solidarity with Western nations threatened by terrorism, and pledged their utmost commitment to stamp out any such violent acts. Unless you start digging around in a few Swiss bank accounts anyhow, then they seem to take a rather more devil may care attitude to global intelligence co-operation. How would such duplicity play with our allies across the pond, the lawyers asked. Especially as the US seems to take such commitments from their allies rather seriously.
Perhaps more seriously than the supposed threats seemed to be. The SFO it seems, was never privy to an intelligence assessment. Documents released during the initial review also make clear that national security was only invoked after diplomatic and economic concerns fell on stony ground. But then its not the first time this government has invoked a kaleidoscope of justifications to support a pre-ordained course of action I suppose.
In response, CAAT and the Corner House believe Parliament should urgently review the political, legal and constitutional issues raised in this instance, to ensure that investigations are only dropped in the face of genuine threats to the nations security.
Despite all of this however, CAAT’s legal challenge has definitely sent a tremor of shock through the corridors of power. The massive level of media attention elicited has exposed the inner workings of the arms trade and its inherently corrupt culture. This is further supported by the fact that currently BAE is subject to more investigations than Quantas and Max Mosely put together. (Two corruption probes, one in the USA the other in Switzerland as well as four other active SFO investigations into its dealings with South Africa, Tanzania, Romania and the Czech Republic).
There remains much work to be done, but the more such abhorrent business practices are placed under the microscope of public scrutiny, CAAT will undoubtedly continue challenge the endemic corruption and immorality of this mucky trade.