Documents reveal BAE pressured government to halt corruption investigation

by various

first published 14 February 2008

Documents released in the High Court on Thursday 14 February 2008 reveal that BAE Systems wrote to the Attorney General on a "strictly private and confidential" basis urging him to halt the Serious Fraud Office investigation into allegations that BAE had bribed Saudi Arabian officials to secure the Al Yamamah arms deal. The company argued that the investigation should be dropped on commercial and diplomatic grounds.

The 12 letters, memos, notes and emails sent from November 2005 to December 2006 from and/or to BAE Systems, Allen & Overy (BAE solicitors), the Attorney General's office and the Serious Fraud Office were released as part of the judicial review being brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and The Corner House.

BAE's "Memorandum for Attorney General" of 7 November 2005 set out "the reasons why the Company considers it not to be in the public interest for the SFO investigation . . . to continue." This Memorandum triggered a consultation within government departments on the "public interest" aspects of the investigation, even though it had been sent by the very subject of that criminal investigation. Nowhere did BAE mention the issue of 'national security'.

Another released document indicates that even the representations subsequently made by government departments to the SFO on the public interest aspects of the investigation were made at BAE's instigation. According to the notes that SFO Director, Robert Wardle, made of his telephone conversation on 7 November 2005 with BAE's Legal Director, Michael Lester, BAE said it "would make further representations to the Ministry [of Defence] for them to make representations to us [the Serious Fraud Office]" as to why the investigation should be halted.

The documents also indicated that the day before the SFO Director's decision was announced, the Attorney General said that he was "committed to supporting it [the investigation] provided it was viable, whatever the outcome might be" and "was extremely unhappy at the implications of dropping it now".