Publication: News Release Issued: Date: 2006-12-19 Reporter:

Corner House and CAAT Legal Challenge to SFO Dropping of BAE Inquiry

 Correspondence :
SFO Investigation into BAE Systems plc (“BAE”)


News Release




Legal challenge to decision to drop BAE corruption inquiry

Last night The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) began a legal challenge to the decision to drop the investigation into bribery allegations involving BAE Systems Plc in Saudi Arabia. Lawyers, Leigh Day & Co, acting on behalf of the two organisations, issued letters to the Director of the Serious Fraud Office, the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister laying out their intention to judicially review the decision.

The basis for the legal challenge by the two NGOs is that:

- The decision was based on considerations of potential damage to relations with Saudi Arabia. This is expressly forbidden under the OECD's Anti-Bribery Convention (Article 5);

- The Prime Minister, in his advice on the public interest to the Attorney-General *1 and the Serious Fraud Office, improperly took into account considerations of damage to diplomatic relations;

-  The advice given by the Prime Minister amounted to a direction to discontinue the investigation, which is an unlawful interference *2 with the independence of prosecutors under domestic and international law.

CAAT spokesperson, Nicholas Gilby, said:

"The public expect BAE Systems to be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. But this decision shows that they are not. We are confident that this outrageous and unlawful decision will be overturned by the courts".

Susan Hawley, corruption expert at the Corner House, stated:

"This investigation was always a test case of how serious the UK government is about meeting its international commitments on combating corruption. The government has clearly breached its obligations under the OECD Convention. If the decision not to investigate is allowed to stand, international efforts to fight corruption will be set back by at least a decade. Corrupt politicians and businesses around the world will be rubbing their hands with glee."


Symon Hill, CAAT 020 7281 0297 or 07920 037719

Susan Hawley, the Corner House 07940 827605

Nick Hildyard, the Corner House 07773 750534

Notes to Editors:

1. The Corner House is a not-for-profit social and environmental justice group. In 2005 it brought a successful claim for judicial review against the Department of Trade and Industry's decision to weaken anti-corruption procedures following lobbying by BAE Systems and other defence and aerospace companies. See :

2. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade.

3. Article 5 of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions states that "Investigation and prosecution of the bribery of a foreign public official shall be subject to the applicable rules and principles of each Party. They shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State or the identity of the natural or legal persons involved."

4. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention was signed in 1997 and came into effect in 1999. It requires signatories to criminalise the payment of bribes to foreign public officials in international business transactions.

5. In June 2005, the OECD Working Group on Bribery evaluated the UK's implementation of the Convention, and expressed concern at the potential for 'national interest' considerations to influence the decisions on investigations. The Attorney General assured the OECD that "none of the considerations prohibited by Article 5 would be taken into account as public interest factors not to prosecute".

6. CAAT and The Corner House have instructed Richard Stein and Jamie Beagent at Leigh Day & Co solicitors and barristers David Pannick  QC, Dinah Rose QC and Ben Jaffey of Blackstone Chambers.

7. A copy of the letter sent to the Serious Fraud Office is attached to this press release. A response is expected by 2 January. If no satisfactory response is received, CAAT and the Corner House intend to issue a claim for judicial review.


*1       In South Africa, the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) is equivalent to the UK's Attorney-General. It seems that in both countries these public watchdogs can be persuaded to misdirect themselves on the whim of presidents and prime ministers. Eternal shame on them.

*2      Sounds much like the interference by the Minister of Justice, Dr Penuell Maduna, into the dropping of charges of corruption against Thomson-CSF and Jacob Zuma.

But standing behind the Minister of Justice is The President. It was President Thabo Mbeki who ruled that the Special Investigation Unit could not investigate the Arms Deal.

It was Mbeki who did the smokey room deal in 1995 with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, that the UK should get the lead-in fighter trainer and fighter aircraft deals.

It was Mbeki who did the smokey room deal in 1995 with the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Helmut Kohl, that the FRG should get the corvette and submarine deals.

Mbeki lied to the South African public that he had received senior counsels' opinion (from Advocates Frank Kahn SC and Jannie Lubbe SC) that there were no grounds for an investigation by the SIU. Indeed their clear recommendation was the opposite.

Mbeki lied again to the South African public when he claimed he could not remember meeting the top executives of Thomson-CSF International in Paris on 17 December 1998, in direct contravention of a host of court-tested documentary evidence.

It was Mbeki who authored the letter sent in the name and under signature of the Leader of Government Business in Parliament to the Chairman of SCOPA, Dr Gavin Woods, ridiculing SCOPA's intention of launching a joint investigation into the Arms Deal, with the SIU being the fourth investigation agency.

It was Mbeki who, along with his fellow stooges, the four ministers of MINCOM, sat around a table with the Auditor-General (and probably also the Public Protector and National Director of Public Prosecutions), to review the draft Joint Investigation Report and then order critical deletions and additions from and to it, thereby turning piece of investigation gelignite into the  dampest of squibs.

Mbeki should be impeached. He is The Big Fish.