CAAT and The Corner House win landmark ruling on BAE-Saudi corruption case
by Campaign Against Arms Trade and The Corner House
first published 9 November 2007
PRESS RELEASE, Friday 9 November 2007
Campaigners win landmark ruling on BAE-Saudi corruption case
At a hearing today in the High Court, Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mr Justice Irwin, granted permission to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and The Corner House to bring a full judicial review hearing against the UK Government's decision to cut short a Serious Fraud Office(SFO) investigation into alleged corruption by BAE Systems in recent arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
Lawyers for the two groups argued before Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Irwin, that the SFO decision was unlawful under the OECD's Anti-Bribery Convention, which the UK signed in 1997.
Lord Justice Moses agreed with the groups that the issue "cries out for a public hearing" because it involves "matters of concern and public importance". He stressed that the issue was closely concerned with the legal system in this country that "judges have to protect". He concluded that "it is in everyone's interest that a full hearing take place."
The full judicial review hearing has now been scheduled for late January-early February and is expected to last two days.
Symon Hill of CAAT said:
"This is brilliant news for everyone who wants to see an end to arms companies' influence over government. We are now one step further today to the point when BAE Systems is no longer calling the shots."
Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House said:
"Today is a great day for British justice. The courts have today shown that no one is above the law -- not BAE Systems, not the Government, not Saudi princes. There are key legal principles at stake here. At last this case will get the public hearing it deserves."
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. The Corner House is an environmental and social justice NGO. For more information on the legal challenge, go to http://www.controlbae.org/latest
A short timeline of events for this legal challenge is as follows:
- 14th December 2006: The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into BAE's arms deals with Saudi Arabia was suspended.
- 18th December 2006: The Corner House and CAAT wrote to the UK Government arguing that the SFO decision was unlawful and should be reversed.
- 23rd February 2007: The groups began the judicial review process.
- 19th April 2007: The groups lodged their full grounds for an application for a judicial review.
- 29th May 2007: The High Court refused to grant permission for a judicial review hearing on the grounds that "national security must always prevail". The 9 November 2007 oral hearing was in response to that decision; Lord Justice Moses's granting of permission overturns this refusal.
The basis for the groups' legal challenge hinges on Article 5 of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. The SFO decision was purportedly based on considerations of potential damage to relations with Saudi Arabia, and thus to the UK's national security, if the BAE-Saudi arms deals investigation continued. This is expressly forbidden under Article 5, which rules out the termination of corruption investigations on grounds other than the merits of the case. Signatory governments specifically undertake not to be influenced "by the potential effect [of an investigation] upon relations with another State . . . .".
Since the Serious Fraud Office terminated its investigation in December last year, the Department of Justice in the United States has launched a criminal inquiry into alleged corruption in BAE Systems' deals with Saudi Arabia and the company's compliance with US anti-corruption laws. The Department made an official request for 'mutual legal assistance' to the Home Office, which has delayed passing the request to the Serious Fraud Office. The SFO has important documentation relevant to an investigation gained from its inquiry into payments made to members of the Saudi royal family.
In addition, a US pension fund and BAE shareholder started to sue past and present directors of BAE Systems in September this year over allegations that the company spent more than $2 billion bribing Saudi Arabian officials to win business. The fund charges the company officers with breaching their fiduciary duties.