Secret documents reveal that Blair urged end to BAE investigation

by various

first published 21 December 2007


Documents released in the High Court on Friday 21 December 2007 indicate that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into BAE's Saudi arms deals was dropped only after the then Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a personal minute to the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

They show that Goldsmith did not believe that the case should be dropped in response to alleged Saudi threats to withdraw intelligence and security co-operation.

On 8th December 2006, Blair sent Goldsmith a 'personal minute' about the "real and immediate risk of a collapse in UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation".

Blair stressed in this 'personal minute' his concern about "the critical difficulty presented to the negotiations over the Typhoon contract", (a further proposed but unsigned deal for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from BAE to Saudi Arabia).

However, on 11th December -- only three days before the investigation was dropped -- Goldsmith told Blair that halting the investigation on the grounds of Saudi claims to withdraw cooperation "would send a bad message about the credibility of the law in this area, and look like giving in to threats".

Just two months previously, in October 2006, Goldsmith firmly rejected representations made by government departments that the investigation should be dropped because of Saudi representations that they would withdraw intelligence and diplomatic cooperation.

Goldsmith's "firm view" was that "it would not be right to discontinue [the investigation] on the basis that the consequences threatened by the Saudi representatives may result".

The released documents -- which are heavily censored -- do not contain any assessment of whether the Saudi threat to withdraw intelligence and diplomatic co-operation was real, credible or even imminent.

The decision made by the Director of the SFO, Robert Wardle, on 14th December 2006 to drop the investigation appears to have been prompted by Blair's personal minute and by meetings with the UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The government has not released any documents about the Ambassador's representations to Wardle nor about the Saudi representations to the UK government.

The documents were released during a 'Directions Hearing' at the High Court to prepare for a judicial review brought by The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) against the UK Government's decision to cut short the SFO investigation into alleged corruption by BAE Systems in recent arms deals with Saudi Arabia.