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The Independent: Blair used ‘irresistible pressure’ to halt investigation into BAE-Saudi arms deal *(scandal allegedly involving Shell)

The Independent

Tony Blair said ‘national security’ was the reason for dropping the inquiry into deals for aircraft such as the Tornado (Getty Images)

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Friday, 15 February 2008

Tony Blair wrongly influenced due legal process when he used “irresistible pressure” to end the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into alleged bribery and corruption involving arms deals between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia, it was alleged in the High Court yesterday.

When he was Prime Minister, Mr Blair “stepped over the boundaries of what was permissible” and interfered in the highly sensitive criminal investigation because of threats by the Saudis, said the barrister representing two anti-corruption campaign groups challenging the decision to drop the case.

The High Court challenge centres on the decision in December 2006, announced by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to end the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into the £43bn Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia in 1985, which provided Tornado and Hawk jets and other military equipment.

At the time, the Government had used arguments about national security to justify the decision.

Dinah Rose QC, appearing yesterday for Corner House Research, which campaigns against corruption in international trade, and the Campaign Against Arms, said the real reason for dropping the investigation “was not national security but the commercial situation” and the decision violated the OECD’s convention on combatting bribery. The decision was also based on “tainted advice” and was unlawful because the director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) had permitted threats, or blackmail, to influence his decision.

Ms Rose said it was taken after renewed threats by the Saudi Arabian royal family that if the investigation continued the Saudis would cancel a proposed order for Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and withdraw all security and intelligence co-operation with the British Government.

She told Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mr Justice Sullivan at the High Court in London: “These threats were apparently made following BAE’s discovery that the SFO was about to obtain access to details of various Swiss bank accounts.”

In a note disclosed to the court, the SFO’s assistant director, Helen Garlick, recorded a meeting at which the Attorney General asked for the director’s opinion days before the decision was taken to stop the investigation. Ms Garlick said the Attorney General had also asked for her advice, and she described attending a meeting at the Foreign Office where “we had been told that ‘British lives on British streets’ were at risk”. Ms Garlick stated: “If this caused another 7/7 [bomb attacks on London on 7 July 2005] how could we say that our investigation, which at this stage might or might not result in a successful prosecution, was more important?”

In court, Philip Sales QC, appearing for the SFO, said the director had “no choice” but to stop the investigation on national security grounds. He told the judges that the threat from the Saudis “could not be obviated sensibly by other means”.

Lord Justice Moses suggested that, in reality, the Saudi threat involved saying that Britain would not be told if the Saudis learnt that someone was going to “blow you up”. Mr Sales said the threat of withdrawal of co-operation went wider.

He said the Government had decided that stopping the investigation “was of critical importance to our national security in the light of the Islamist terrorist threat”.

“There was no other viable choice available to the director other than to accept, with very great reluctance, that the investigation should be stopped.”

Lord Justice Moses said that no one could take issue with the decision if there was a threat of “imminent harm”. But, if it was less than that, there was then the difficulty that “any villain” could take advantage of the tense situation.

In reply to the judge’s observation that nothing appeared to have been done by the Government to find an alternative way of overcoming the threat, Mr Sales said: “You don’t have full sight of the underlying material.” Mr Sales said this was an issue raised by the judge himself and he had not been given the chance to prepare to meet it.

The hearing continues.

Headline comment in brackets added by John Donovan

Related articles mentioning Shell…

Executive Intelligence Review: The BAE Systems Affair and The Anglo-Dutch Imperial Slime Mold and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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