(5) Legal challenge to decision to drop BAE corruption inquiry
NGO letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, 15 January 2007

by National and international NGOs

first published 15 January 2007


140 NGOs from 37 countries sent this letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair calling upon him to re-open the investigation of the Al Yamamah defence contract between BAE and Saudi Arabia government because of the impacts of corruption on democracy, sustainable development, human rights and poverty. The NGO letter was covered in the Financial Times.


Monday 15th January, 2007

Rt Hon Tony Blair MP

The Prime Minister

10 Downing Street

London SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister

We are writing with regard to the recent decision of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to end its investigation into BAE Systems Plc and the Al Yamamah military contract with the Government of Saudi Arabia.

The SFO's press release states that the decision was taken "...following representations that have been made both to the Attorney General and the Director of the SFO concerning the need to safeguard national and international security" and that it was "necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest".

As you are aware, the UK is a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (the OECD Anti-bribery Convention). Article 5 of the OECD Anti-bribery Convention requires that the investigation and prosecution of foreign bribery "...shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest" or "the potential effect upon relations with another State...".

The early termination of the investigation for reasons that do not relate to the legal merits of the case sends the message that companies trading with countries that a government claims to be of strategic importance are above the law and can bribe with impunity.

This decision risks reversing the progress made in recent years by the 36 signatories to the OECD Anti-bribery Convention to raise standards and level the playing field in international business transactions.

It also threatens the implementation of the more recent United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which requires all parties, including the new trading powers of China, India and Russia, to investigate and prosecute companies that pay bribes overseas.

Finally, it is likely to cause irreparable damage to the UK's reputation as an anti-corruption champion on the world stage. At the OECD, for example, it is hard to see how the UK can credibly continue to play its role in the process of peer review, through which parties hold each other to account for their implementation of the Convention. Similarly, future efforts by the UK to prescribe governance standards for developing countries in receipt of aid and debt relief are likely to be viewed as nothing less than double standards.

Given the devastating impacts of corruption on democracy, sustainable development, human rights and poverty, we call upon the UK Government to re-open the investigation of the case.

Yours sincerely,


The Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith, The Attorney General

The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for International Development

Lord Drayson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Procurement

Robert Wardle, Serious Fraud Office

Professor Mark Pieth, Chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery


Jessica Woodroffe, Action Aid

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK

Olushola Fabiyi, Anti Corruption League

Ian Davis, BASIC

Lucy Baker, Bretton Woods Project

Chris Bain, CAFOD

Ann Feltham, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

Lochlinn Parker, Campaign against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)

Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Babatunde Olugboji, Christian Aid

Frank McNally, Columban Faith and Justice

Andy Higginbottom, Colombia Solidarity Campaign

Ralph Ryder, Communities Against Toxics

Susan Hawley, Corner House

Helena Paul, EcoNexus

Lee Coates, Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility

Ian Neal, Engineers Against Poverty

Chris Cole, Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR)

Saskia Ozinga, FERN UK

Richard Samuelson, Free West Papua Campaign

Tony Juniper, Friends of the Earth

Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland

David McCoy, Global Health Watch

Alex Yearsley, Global Witness

Liz Davies, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

Margaret Gallagher, Harmony House

Camilla Toulmin, IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development)

Mark Thomas, Isaiah

Trisha Rogers, Jubilee Debt Campaign

Arzu Pesmen, Kurdish Federation UK

Rachel Bernu, Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP)

Andrew Simms, New Economics Foundation

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam GB

Roger Moody, Partizans

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi

Jan Melichar, Peace Pledge Union

Ali Askouri, Piankhi Research Group

Mika Minio-Paluello, PLATFORM

Harry Jonas, Protimos UK

Elizabeth Allen, Quaker Peace & Social Witness

Tricia Feeney, RAID

Laurence Whitehead, Red Eurolatinamericano de Gobernabilidad para el Desarrollo

Angie Zelter, Reforest The Earth

Anders Lustgarten, Refugee Project

Stuart Parkinson, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch

Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Transparency International-UK

John Hilary, War on Want

Murray Benham, World Development Movement (WDM)


Helen Darbishire, Access Info Europe

Magda Stoczkiewicz, CEE Bankwatch Network

Maja Daruwala, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Lillian Manzella, EarthRights International

Alex Wilks, European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad)

Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South

Tom Griffiths, Forest Peoples Programme

Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth International

Peter Pennartz, IRENE

Graham Saul, Oil Change International

Simon Trace, Practical Action

Hani Serag, People's Health Movement

Hans Engelberts, Public Services International (PSI)

David de Beer, Saferworld

John Christensen, Tax Justice Network

Fredrik Galtung, Tiri

Wilbert Van der Zeijden, Transnational Institute (TNI)

David Nussbaum, Transparency International

Kirstine Drew, UNICORN: A Global Unions Anti-corruption Network

Teresa Perez, World Rainforest Movement (WRM)


Tchiko Mourad, Syndicat National Autonome des Personnels de L'Adminstration Publique (SNAPAP)


David Barnden, Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA)


John Massam, Just World Campaign


Nonno Breuss, EcaWatch Austria


Manzoor Hasan, Centre for Governance Studies, BRAC University


Christophe Scheire, Netwerk Vlaanderen vzw

Jan Cappelle, Proyecto Gato

Mich Crols, Vredesactie vzw (Peace action)


Gregory Choc, Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management


Ivaylo Hlebarov, Za Zemiata (For the Earth)


Moses Kambou, ORCADE


Patricia Adams, Probe International


Carlos Zorrilla, Decoin (Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica de Intag)


Sébastien Godinot, Friends of the Earth France


Manana Kochladze, Green Alternatives

Londa Esadze, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) Caucasian Office


Regine Richter, Urgewald

Hans Branscheidt, Mezopotamian Development Society

Heike Drillisch, World Economy, Ecology & Development (WEED)


Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group

Smitu Kothari, Intercultural Resources

Xavier Dias, Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)

National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)

Kavaljit Singh, Public Interest Research Centre


Titi Soentoro, NADI


Conall O'Caoimh, Comhlámh - The Irish Association of Development Workers


Jawad Alhashemy, Iraqi Center for Transparency & Anti-corruption


Susanne Tam, Transparency International Israel


Antonio Tricarico, Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale (CRBM)

Giulio Marcon, Lunaria

Mariarosa Cutillo, Mani Tese


Basem Sakijha, Jordan Transparency Forum


Gladwell Otieno, AfriCOG (African Centre for Open Governance)


Jonathan Yiah, Sustainable Development Institute

Sarnyenneh Dickson, Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL)


Marcelo Mosse, Center for Public Integrity


David Ugolor, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ)

IInnocen Adjenughure, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) Network, Nigeria

Osita Nnamani Ogbu, Centre for the Advancement of Democracy & the Rule of Law

Taiwo Otitolaye, Community Development and Welfare Agenda

Bamidele Johnson, Independent Advocacy Project (IAP)

Uche Igwe, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI)

Tokunbo Mumuni, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP)

Lilian Ekeanyanwu, Zero-Corruption Coalition


Elías Díaz Peña, Friends of the Earth, Paraguay


Annie Enriquez-Geron, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK)

Helen Mendoza, Soljuspax


Renato Roldao, EURONATURA


Dmitry Lisitsyn, Sakhalin Environment Watch


André Standing, Corruption & Governance Programme, Institute for Security Studies (IIS)

Terry Crawford-Browne, Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR--South Africa)

Liane Greeffe, Environmental Monitoring Group

Bobby Peek, groundWork

Kabir Bavikatte, Protimos Africa

Colm Allan, Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)


Sung-Goo Kang, Transparency International Korea (South)


Mónica Vargas, Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalización


Khair Hasan, International Agency for Development and Repatriation (IADR)


Chris Greacen, Palang Thai


Wiert Wiertsema, Both ENDS

Martin Broek, Campagne tegen Wapenhandel

Monique de Lede, Friends of the Earth Netherlands

Joris Oldenziel, SOMO


Kate Watters, Crude Accountability

Beth Burrows, Edmonds Institute

Aaron Goldzimer, Environmental Defense

Daphne Wysham, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)

Patrick McCully, International Rivers Network (IRN)

Ambika Chawla, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

Financial Times press coverage

Pressure for Blair over corruption probe

By Christopher Adams in London, Financial Times, January 14 2007

Tony Blair, UK prime minister, will on Monday come under intense international pressure from 130 campaign groups and charities to reverse his decision to scrap a corruption inquiry into a Saudi arms deal.

Lobby groups including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Transparency International have written to Mr Blair and other ministers in an effort to get a Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the Al Yamamah deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi government reopened.

The government, they have warned, is likely to do "irreparable damage" to Britain's anti-bribery reputation and could be accused of "double standards" in its dealings with developing nations.

Lord Goldsmith, UK attorney-general, announced last month that the SFO had stopped its investigation into BAE's dealings with Saudi Arabia on public interest grounds and because of "the need to safeguard national and international security".

The decision was made after intense lobbying by BAE and anger among Saudi officials. The SFO had been investigating allegations of slush funds and other unethical practices surrounding the 20-year-old Al Yamamah arms agreement with Riyadh, the UK's biggest export deal. Last year Riyadh agreed to buy 72 Eurofighters in a deal that would supersede Al Yam- amah and eventually be worth up to £40bn to BAE.

Leading industrialised nations have already sought an explanation from the British government.

This month the head of a committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of 30 big economies, took the unusual step of writing to the Foreign Office to ask why the SFO stopped its investigation.

Monday's letter, signed by nearly 50 UK-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and others from more than 30 countries, including the US, France and Germany, warns of "irreparable damage" to Britain's reputation.

"The early termination of the investigation for reasons that do not relate to the legal merits of the case sends the message that companies trading with countries that a government claims to be of strategic importance are above the law and can bribe with impunity," it says.

The move, the letter warns, also risks reversing the progress made by the OECD's anti-bribery convention and threatens a United Nations agreement to investigate and prosecute companies paying bribes overseas.

At the OECD, it says, "it is hard to see how the UK can credibly continue to play its role in the process of peer review . . . Future efforts by the UK to prescribe governance standards for developing countries in receipt of aid and debt relief are likely to be viewed as nothing less than double standards."

In December Mr Blair said: "Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for our country in terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East, in terms of helping in respect of Israel-Palestine, and that strategic interest comes first." Downing Street on Sunday declined to add to those comments.