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There must not be one rule for one and not the other….government departments cannot be above the rule of law.


Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, says:-

  • After the bombshell Saudi defence deal revelations, we need a full inquiry into who knew what

Susan Hawley, in the Guardian UK newspaper, has written the following.

Article follows….

THANKS to a recent court case, we now know that the Ministry of Defence, over the space of decades, probably had knowledge of – and possible complicity in – payments that could have benefited Saudi princes and officials.

Documents released during the case, which concluded this week with two individuals being cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the payments, suggest that MoD civil servants arranged and signed off these payments, made as part of a long-running defence deal between Britain and the Saudi Arabian national guard, possibly until 2017.

Shockingly, the picture emerging from the documents suggests that MoD officials did this with high-level ministerial knowledge during successive governments.

They seemingly carried on doing so during and after the huge international and domestic outcry in response to then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision in 2006 to close down the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) investigation into alleged bribes on the BAE/Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia.

A decision that many at the time felt trashed the UK’s international reputation and undermined the rule of law.

They seemingly carried on even after a whistleblower brought the national guard payments to the attention of the SFO in the UK.

They apparently sought ways to continue to meet Saudi demands despite the Bribery Act coming into effect in 2011, which makes it clearly illegal to pay foreign officials for contracts.

Yet neither the government as a whole nor the MoD as a department have faced any accountability for seemingly being so willing to support the bending or even breaking of this act, a law they introduced and have a duty to uphold.

The SFO said it found no evidence of government involvement in the relatively narrow earlier period it was looking at. But with all due respect to the SFO, which deserves credit for getting this politically sensitive case into court, it is heavily constrained by what it was told by the MoD. (Indeed, the SFO’s investigation was nearly scuppered on several occasions, with the government withholding consent for the prosecution for three years and then withholding vital evidence.)

It is not just a cavalier disdain for upholding the Bribery Act that the MoD’s alleged behaviour suggests. The UK has signed up to, and frequently states that it is a champion of, several international anti-corruption conventions – at the UN and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Those conventions are in place to stop governments allowing payments to be made to win a competitive advantage over others – to do away with the argument so often heard back in the 1990s and early 2000s that, if we didn’t do it, then the French or Germans would.

If the MoD did indeed continue to operate mechanisms set up years ago that allow Saudi officials to personally benefit from government defence contracts after the Bribery Act was introduced, it makes any claim by the UK to be leading the international fight against corruption sound extremely hollow.

UK plc has spent vast sums of money investing in systems to prevent bribery over the past decade, and about 15 UK companies have faced fines in the UK worth £1.8bn primarily for failing to prevent it.

The private sector might rightly ask why it is expected to operate to a different standard to that of government departments.

These serious allegations deserve a very serious response. There cannot be one rule for ordinary businesses and ordinary people, and another for government departments. And the government cannot pick and choose in which countries or sectors it upholds the law.

That’s why we need three things to happen now.

  1. We need a full judge-led inquiry into what the MoD role in payments on UK government arms deals with Saudi Arabia was, who knew what in government, and whether these payments have actually stopped.

That will take time,

  1. So we also need the UK’s independent National Audit Office to conduct and publish a full audit of the MoD’s accounts on government-to-government contracts with Saudi Arabia for the past 15 years, to help get to the bottom of what happened here. The last time there was such an audit it was buried, and with it the truth of what was going on.
  2. And finally, we need parliament to step up, with the defence select committee conducting an urgent inquiry into the effectiveness of the MOD’s anti-bribery procedures since the Bribery Act came into force in 2011 – particularly for government-to-government contracts, how it is tackling corruption risks, and how it manages whistleblower complaints.

After the BAE/Al-Yamamah scandal, the government and MoD officials got away with it. That cannot be allowed to happen again.


  • Susan Hawley is executive director at Spotlight on Corruption

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