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The BAe decision is a contemptible scandal

Ewen MacAskill
December 15, 2006

Tony Blair was elected on a promise to put an end to the sleaze of the Major years. Of all the blows to this government's reputation for integrity - from its deal on tobacco advertising and motor-racing to the cash-for-peerages row - none has been as scandalous as the announcement yesterday by the attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, that the Serious Fraud Office was dropping its investigation into corruption over a multi-billion British-Saudi arms deal.

Lord Goldsmith said last week he had no intention of interfering with the investigation, following talks with the SFO director, Robert Wardle. And yet, 10 days later, the investigation is dropped.

The SFO yesterday insisted that the government had not given in to threats from BAE and Saudi Arabia - that Riyadh might renege on a fighter aircraft deal unless the investigation was dropped. It said Blair and his foreign and defence secretaries had warned that Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia could be damaged by the investigation, with consequences for national security - allegedly help in the "war on terror" - and policy objectives in the Middle East.
In fact, Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia - based on oil and arms - has for two decades been a major source of instability: its clerics have fostered Islamist extremism and 15 of the 9/11 attackers were raised there. And it's no democracy - it is run by a royal autocracy with little regard for human rights.
Worst of all, Lord Goldsmith's statement undermines the already battered constitutional convention that the executive does not interfere with the legal process. This is as contemptible as anything from the Major years.

The Guardian


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