Monday, December 18, 2006

The real reason the Saudi bribes probe was halted...?

Much was written over the weekend about the controversial decision to pull the plug on the £2 million Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged bribes paid by a British company some 20 years ago.

I thought the most telling article was in the Observer by Gaby Hinsliff and Antony Barnett who support my view that:

1. The decision was taken to protect British lives.
2. There was little chance of a successful prosecution.

Here’s the opening paragraphs to the article:

Saudi Arabia threatened to stop sharing vital intelligence - particularly intercepted communications between al-Qaeda members active there - unless Britain suspended its investigation into a controversial arms deal, The Observer can reveal.

Senior Whitehall sources said the Saudis warned they would also kick out British military and intelligence personnel based in the country.

'They were threatening everything: intelligence, everything. The US and the UK have got their bases in Saudi, that is their "in" to the Middle East,' said one source. 'Essentially, the line was that British lives could be lost if this relationship broke down. It would have been them freezing everybody out and speaking to nobody about anything.'

The investigation into allegations that BAE Systems paid bribes to senior Saudis was dropped last Thursday following a detailed report from the security services. Saudi sources insisted yesterday the real reason was that the firm - which had said it risked losing a £6bn deal for the Saudis to buy 72 Typhoon jets - could have gone bust if it lost contracts.

However the intelligence threats appear to have been made after months of commercial ones failed to get the desired result. One senior intelligence expert said the Saudis' contribution to the battle against al-Qaeda could not be underestimated: 'The Saudis are very, very important. Mucking up that relationship is something you do not do.'

The fight against terrorism itself could have been at risk. The Serious Fraud Office's director, Robert Wardle, confirmed yesterday in an interview with the Financial Times that he was convinced to drop the case by national security considerations.

However, Whitehall sources said the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, had gone further by concluding there was little chance of bringing charges.

Goldsmith believed the main evidence gathered so far dated back to before the introduction of Britain's current anti-corruption laws, which meant it might not be prosecutable.

Goldsmith also thought the SFO would be obstructed by the constitutional position of the Saudi royal family in their country's government: they are only held liable under law when acting in a government capacity, rather than as royals.

10 comments:

Brynley said...

Sounds like blackmail to me. A foreign dictator says continue with the bribes or bad things will happen.

We say: Yes sir! Right away, Sir! Would you like chocolate sprinkles on that, Sir?

I am a realist. In government, sometimes you have to meet and greet foreign leaders who are not democrats and do not subscribe to what Blair calls "our values", whatever they may be.

But our relationship with Saudi is clear;ly more than that. It is a moral disgrace and a national humiliation. It makes nonsense of all our protestations about democracy, the rule of law, not forgetting "our values".

We make ourselves less safe by getting so emeshed with the local tyrant that we are susceptible to blackmail without end.

In so doing we undermine all those in the region working for strategic stabilty, an end to dictatorship and tyranny, human rights for all.

The real reason indeed?

Now we know the real reason that Blair sacked Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary.

As for the arms deal: it wont save the House of Saud.

Geoffrey G Brooking said...

The real reason is that it was a good day to bury bad news.

fairdealphil said...

brynley:

no, it's not a perfect world.

and sometimes your enemy's enemy is your friend.

fairdealphil said...

geoffrey:

so you want the investigation into Margaret Thatcher's allegedly dodgy deal to continue then...?

Brynley said...

"sometimes your enemy's enemy is your friend" says Phil.

This is of course Margaret Thatcher's argument.

General Pinochet may have gone over the top a bit with the torturing and maiming of his opponents, and - all else being equal - we would like to honour the results of democratic elections, but hey he was a bulwark against communism.

In fact Phil, the case for supporting Pinochet, loathsome dictator, is stronger that the argument for getting so hopelessly emeshed with the Saudi dictators.

Take a 20 year view.

enigman said...

Brynley, my wife Morag called your comments "most peculiar". Indeed, I must agree. However, I would like to invite you to our Christmas Event this Friday. It's an evening of cheese and nuts from around the world (some as far afield as Chester) all set to the music of, amongst others, Ricky Ticky Thommo, the acclaimed music hall performer who will play some of his hits live, including his European hit "Mars or Twix (I just can't decide...)"

Brynley said...

Thanks for the invite, Enigman.

Bruno, of Skegness fame, will be attending on my behalf.

I've told him to expect carrots.

fairdealphil said...

brynley:

i certainly do take your point re: Pinochet and Thatcher's argument.

it's all about trying to get the balance right.

but i still believe that if the PM believed British lives would be at risk if he had not halted the bribes probe, then he took the right decision.

fairdealphil said...

brynley:

i think it's most unfair of Bruno to attend on Friday and risk stealing the thunder of either Ricky, Ticky, or Thommo.

in any case, i prefer snickers.

voice of reason said...

I agree with Phil. You have to take a broad view of these things and not get drawn into tit-for-tat arguments. There aren't and there shouldn't be precedents for deciding what to do in these cases. They have to be judged on the global situation at the time. At this moment in time, the Government's position is correct.