01 February 2007

Al-Yamamah: All Clear

I have to admit to a sneaking sympathy with the government, the SFO and particularly BAE over the dropping of an investigation into allegations of bribery. As I understand it, BAE are supposed to have bribed senior Saudi officials (and possibly senior members of the Saudi royal family) in order to secure the highly lucrative Al-Yamamah contract in the 1980s. The SFO dropped its investigation after the Saudis leant on the British government, threatening to cancel future contracts and withdraw co-operation in the war on terror (or: the so-called "war on terror" - as the BBC now calls it).

Are we supposed to believe that France, Germany or any other European country would put its national interest at risk in order to conduct a bribery investigation into one of its key strategic and flagship companies? Admittedly, the US generally have a puritanical attitude towards this sort of thing (their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act being one of the most severe deterrents in the world against bribery), but on the other hand they secure contracts the traditional way - by invading.

So what were the SFO going to uncover? That BAE, probably abely assisted by HMG (Minister for Defence Procurement: J. Aitken), sweetened the deal by treating and maybe even bribing individual Saudi officials so that they bought UK technology? Big deal. They got the jets, we/BAE got the dosh. It is not as if Saudi Arabia is a poverty stricken country who were sold a dud product. If there are allegations of corrupt activity, the people who might have lost out (although it is far from clear that they have) are the Saudis themselves and if they want to investigate the people who have feathered their own nest at the expense of the Saudi state, they can do so.

The OECD are now criticising the UK for dropping the inquiry (despite the SFO declaring that they would find it hard to secure a conviction -- what's new?), in full knowledge that in most other countries, no investigation would have ever got off the ground in the first place. Yet again the UK is the goody two shoes of the international community and then gets hammered for it.

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