Court lifts lid on Saudi terror threat claim
Kickstart for kicked-into-touch BAE kickback probe?
UK-headquartered BAE Systems faces the risk that a Serious Fraud Office investigation into its dealings - said to have been personally halted in 2006 by Tony Blair citing "national security" concerns - might be reopened.
A civil lawsuit brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and social justice umbrella organisation The Corner House is seeking to have the SFO investigation reopened. Their lawyers are using the judicial system to examine a range of previously secret or unreleased government documents, letters, and testimony.
Upsettingly for the Blair government, the house al-Saud and their chums among the deathmongers, the beard'n'sandal crowd are receiving an extremely sympathetic hearing from high court beaks.
The Guardian reports today that the Saudis used outright threats to twist Tony Blair's arm and muzzle the SFO bloodhounds just as they were about to obtain details of massive payments from BAE via middlemen's Swiss bank accounts to Saudi royalty.
It appears that apart from threatening to pull out of a new £4.4bn deal to buy Eurofighter jets from BAE, the desert princes bluntly said they would not, in future, inform the UK if they learned of planned terror outrages in Britain. SFO investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they carried on.
Much of the present jihadi terror movement is thought to be funded ultimately by Gulf money, and the UK's intelligence and security services are said to get large amounts of useful counterterrorist information from the usually quietly-friendly Saudi government.
Documents reportedly shown to the court showed that Prince Bandar, head of the Saudi national security council - who does not deny that he received more than £1bn from BAE via an American bank, though he says the payments were legit - flew to London and met with Tony Blair early in December 2006. Following the visit, Blair wrote a letter marked "secret and personal" to attorney general Lord Goldsmith, in charge of the SFO. The corruption investigation was closed on 14 December.
Lord Justice Moses, hearing the case alongside Mr Justice Sullivan, made it clear that he thought the activists' case a strong one. Paraphrasing the remarks of the activists' lawyer, he said the Blair government had "rolled over". Speaking of other Saudi persuasion offered outside the UK, Moses suggested that "if that had happened in our jurisdiction, they would have been guilty of a criminal offence".
The arms campaigners' lawyer contended that the Saudis had effectively perverted the course of UK justice. However, there was no real suggestion that the Saudis were the true villains of the case. The suppressed SFO investigation was not targeted at them, but at BAE.
(That said, Prince Bandar has not contested a US court order granted to federal anti-corruption investigators which has frozen his Stateside BAE cash.)
"[So] the Saudis were not the villains, they were just protecting the villains," said Moses, seeking to summarise the UK activists' viewpoint. He wondered why the Blair government hadn't told Riyadh "you can't talk to us like that" or similar.
The arms-industry bashers will be hoping to persuade the Brown government to re-open the SFO probe and perhaps one day put BAE itself in the dock. For now, all they can do in court is cause embarrassment to Blair. ®