UK Liberty

SFO acted unlawfully in halting BAE probe

Posted in rule of law by ukliberty on April 10, 2008

The BBC:

The High Court has ruled that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully by dropping a corruption inquiry into a £43bn Saudi arms deal.

Defence firm BAE was accused of making illegal payments to Saudi officials to secure contracts, but the firm maintains that it acted lawfully.

The SFO said national security would have been undermined by the inquiry.

Two judges allowed the challenge made by Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

In handing down the decision on Thursday, one of the judges, Lord Justice Moses, told the High Court that the director of the SFO had failed to assure them that everything had been done to meet the rule of law.

“No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice,” he said.

“It is the failure of government and the defendant to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court.”

CAAT had argued that the SFO’s decision to drop the probe was illegal under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Anti-Bribery Convention.

“We are delighted.” said CAAT’s Symon Hill after the decision.

“It has been clear from the start that the dropping of the investigation was about neither national security nor jobs. It was due to the influence of BAE and Saudi princes over the UK government.”

Susan Hawley of the Corner House said: “This is a great day for British justice. The judges have stood up for the right of independent prosecutors not to be subjected to political pressure.”

Following the judgement, BAE said: “The case was between two campaign groups and the director of the SFO. It concerned the legality of a decision made by the director of the SFO.

“BAE Systems played no part in that decision.”

For its part, the Serious Fraud Office said it had no further comment, but was “carefully” considering the implications of the judgement. …

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