Judicial Review Application
against the Director of the Serious Fraud Office

by The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade

first published 18 April 2007


Since the 1980s, the UK has supplied Tornado fighter and ground attack aircraft and associated products and support services to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under a series of high-value arms deals known as "Al Yamamah" ("The Dove"). The aircraft are all manufactured by BAE, the UK's largest arms manufacturer.

In 2004, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO, a UK government department that investigates and prosecutes complex fraud) initiated an investigation into alleged bribery and false accounting by BAE in relation to the Al Yamamah deals, including corruption offences since 2001 when bribery of foreign officials became a crime in the UK.

On 14 December 2006, the SFO announced that it was ending its investigation into these bribery allegations. The reason given was that continuing the investigation might lead to Saudi Arabia withdrawing diplomatic cooperation with the UK on security and intelligence.

On 18 April 2007, The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade (a UK-based group working for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade) filed papers (see PDF above) at the High Court in a judicial review of the SFO's decision.

The application centres on the UK's obligations under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-bribery Convention, which Britain signed in 1997.

Article 5 of the Convention expressly forbids 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 . . . ." But the SFO's decision was reportedly based on the grounds that continuing the corruption investigation would damage relations with Saudi Arabia and hence the UK's national security.

On 11 May 2007, the Serious Fraud Office submitted to the courts its "Summary Grounds of Resistance" to the judicial review application.