I doubt any British citizen can be anything other than concerned at a week of revelations over BAE, the MoD, secret payments and the al-Yamamah arms deal.
To recap the last week:
June 7 – Revealed that a BBC probe has found that the arms company BAE has been secretly paying £1bn to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia in connection with Britain’s biggest ever weapons contract. Sir Menzies Campbell demands Tony Blair make a full statement to the House of Commons.
June 8 – Attorney General denies that he ordered information to be concealed from the OECD, the world’s anti-corruption watchdog, after the Serious Fraud Office said that it made the decisions about what to reveal ‘having regard to the need to protect national security’. It emerges the OECD is set to resume its enquiry into the affair.
June 11 – BBC Panorama alleges that BAE continued to make payments in return for arms contracts after the law changed in 2002, when the UK made bribery of foreign officials an offence, and also that the Ministry of Defence directly administered payments of more than £1bn to Prince Bandar.
June 13 – Campbell challenges Blair on the affair at PMQs – PM says responsibility for the arms deal and any secret payments rests with him.
June 14 – Attorney general admits in a letter to Sir Menzies Campbell that the SFO withheld some information from the OECD because of a fear of leaks. Also revealed that the US department of justice is preparing to open a corruption investigation into BAE.
June 15 – Guardian reveals that BAE bought a £75m Airbus plane for Prince Bandar as part of the arms deal.
There are a few points to emphasise :
· If, as Panorama alleges, BAE continued to make payments in return for arms contracts after the law changed in 2002 we need a full investigation to establish whether this amounted to criminal behaviour. If there has been any apparent breach of the anti-corruption legislation that would be a matter for the police.
· The Prime Minister must tell us what payments have been made since 2002, what he knew about these payments and when he knew? And what legal advice he took after these payments after the law changed here in 2002?
· I am pleased that the Liberal Democrats have said they will not rest until there is proper ministerial accountability for what appears to be totally unacceptable conduct which completely undermines anti-corruption legislation.
On Wednesday, Lord Chidgey’s Corruption Bill completed its passage through the Lords. The Bill aims to tighten the laws on British companies operating abroad, following criticism of current rules by the OECD. The Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to support the Bill.