Britain is just as corrupt as the house of Saud

UK/Saudi arms trade relies on dishing out bribes. Jim Moody reports

When it comes to political expediency and making money from the arms trade, all government talk about ‘the rule of law’ goes out the window. That sounds like a standard charge made by left reformist propaganda, but in fact it is the considered opinion of Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan, ruling in the high court last week

They found that the serious fraud office (SFO) had failed to stand up to pressure from the Saudi royal family and the British government. All involved had refused to obey the ‘rule of law’. In concluding the case, brought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and the Corner House, a research and social rights advocacy group, the judges expressed dismay. Their summary notes that “the law is powerless to resist the specific and, as it turns out, successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom, by causing the investigation to be halted”.

They conclude: “The director was required to satisfy the court that all that could reasonably be done had been done to resist the threat. He has failed to do so. He submitted too readily because he, like the executive, concentrated on the effects which were feared should the threat be carried out and not on how the threat might be resisted. No-one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice ... On December 11 2006, the prime minister said that this was the clearest case for intervention in the public interest he had seen. We agree” (www.controlbae.org/background/JR-Judgement-summary.pdf).

So the bribery of Saudi royalty with UK government approval has enabled BAE Systems, Britain’s largest arms manufacturer, to keep its snout in the trough. Clearly, as if we did not know it already, the high court in effect found that some super-well-heeled criminals are allowed to get away with daylight robbery.

The gigantic UK-Saudi Arabia Al Yamamah (‘The Dove’) arms deal dates back to 1985, when Margaret Thatcher successfully helped smooth things through. Worth some £43 billion to date, it has been given continuous and fulsome bipartisan backing by Tory and Labour front benches since then.

As we have seen, though, there have been considerable misgivings within the legal establishment, both here and abroad. There are international rules outlawing bribery. And in parallel with investigation into BAE by the US department of justice and the authorities in Switzerland, the SFO uncovered secret Swiss bank accounts directly linked to Al Yamamah.

In fact vast sums have been paid to members of the Saudi royal family and not only when it comes to this particular arms deal; all companies doing business there are expected to pay 10%-20% in kick-backs. Leaving aside international agreements, under the terms of the UK’s own Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the SFO had a clear legal duty to pursue its investigation. Not to do so is surely to confirm that bribery and corruption are integral to the British economic system.

According to the story carried in The Sunday Times in June 2007, the fault lies mainly with Saudi Arabia (as if bribe-giving is less culpable than bribe-taking). Apparently one of its royal gang, prince Bandar, head of the Saudi Arabia national security council, stormed into Number 10 in 2006, demanding that Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, stop the SFO investigation into Al Yamamah forthwith ... or else. Bandar’s ‘or else’ was the threat to halt the £6 billion Al Yamamah extension order of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets … as well as withdrawing security and intelligence cooperation about Saudi Arabian terrorists.

Bandar certainly has enough clout to gain access to Downing Street. His father, prince Sultan, is next in line to the Saudi throne and he himself served as Saudi ambassador in Washington for 22 years. Supposedly he is a friend of George W Bush. Bandar also has a close personal interest in Al Yamamah. Allegedly he has received about £1 billion from BAE, in £80 million-£120 million bungs over 10 years.

Blair is said to have instantly buckled. In public he warned that continuing the SFO investigation would lead to the “complete wreckage” of vital British interests. And supposedly because of Saudi threats it was halted (though there was talk about security and intelligence cooperation, of course). But what was really at stake was Britain’s commercial and political relationship with the Saudi elite, whereby oil money is exchanged for arms. Without the claims about security and intelligence interests that would have put Britain in open and flagrant breach of agreed international anti-bribery rules.

While Saudi Arabia is an expedient destination for US rendition (ie, torture) flights, its primary importance is as the world’s largest oil exporter. With the huge revenues accruing to it, in what amounts to rent, the house of Saud it is able to channel petrodollars back into the US and UK economies, thereby helping to keep them afloat through purchasing the latest sophisticated weapons systems (the bulk of which are subsequently left to rust in the Arabian deserts).

Petrodollars also allow Saudi Arabia to serve as a bulwark against the progressive aspirations of the Arab masses in west Asia and northern Africa: eg, for national unification and social advance. Saudi money is pumped into the coffers of pliant governments, islamic schools, fundamentalist clerics, moral purity campaigners and a myriad of sunni political parties.

Ordinary people in Saudi Arabia possess no meaningful democratic rights. The merest hint of organised opposition invites censorship, arrest and horrible maltreatment. Even well paid British expatriates have been framed for crimes they did not commit after having been cruelly tortured. Saudi Arabian women suffer under a system of sexual apartheid far more rigid and oppressive than anything imposed on Iran by the ayatollahs. As for the huge numbers of workers coming to Saudi Arabia from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, they are rightless and treated little better than slaves.

Meanwhile the 21,000 Saudi royals who constitute the bulk of the country’s ruling class live in obscene luxury and spend money on palaces, sports cars, Lear jets, whisky and high-class prostitutes as if it were going out of fashion. Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that anti-house of Saud revolutionaries come from the upper classes and advocate an unforgiving, austere and backward-looking political programme. Their ideal is the mediaeval caliphate. With justification they also loathe the US with a zealous passion. After all, in the hallowed name of democracy, the world hegemon is responsible for acting as guarantor to the Saudi Arabian regime against internal and external enemies alike. Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers have their origins in Saudi Arabia, as do many of the sunni militants currently fighting in Iraq.

Goldsmith stopped the SFO investigation in December 2006: he maintains to this day the fiction that he merely announced it, while SFO director Robert Wardle took the decision. So who appoints the SFO director? The attorney general, to whom the director remains responsible. Goldsmith insisted last weekend that the decision had been right for the catch-all reason of ‘national security’.

On April 21, the day the Commons reassembles and when parliamentary questions are likely to be asked about this case, Richard Alderman, the new SFO director, takes office. Appointed by the current attorney general, Baroness Scotland, he nominally gets to decide whether or not to appeal the high court decision or to implement its instruction to reinstate the investigation. We shall see which way he jumps in the next couple of weeks, especially in light of further public and parliamentary discussion, and what Lady Scotland tells him to do.

But there is now the distinct possibility that, far from acting to reinstitute the SFO investigation, Brown’s government will instead bring forward legislation that leaves Britain’s institutional corruption undisturbed. The Constitutional Renewal Bill, due to be enacted later this year, aims to give the attorney general new powers to prevent disclosures of this nature … yes, ‘in the interests of national security’.