David Blackburn

The SFO can go hang, BAE should not be prosecuted for doing business

The SFO can go hang, BAE should not be prosecuted for doing business
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All eminent barristers have their specialism, Lord Goldsmith’s is changing his mind. Scholarly integrity is to blame – he likes to give both sides of the argument. His two thrillingly different Iraq war advices are, of course, his crowning achievement; but he’s playing devil’s advocate again today. He writes in the Guardian:

‘I applaud Richard Alderman, director of the Serious Fraud Office for his vigour in pursuing corruption cases in Africa and eastern Europe against BAE. Reports are that he had put an ultimatum to BAE to reach a plea agreement or suffer the full weight of prosecutions. He is right to do so.’

Now, the general sentiment expressed is somewhat at variance with his position on the BAE/al-Yamamah scandal in. In 2008, Lord Goldsmith said:

"The consequence (of not dropping the case) would have been that we would have waited for 18 months, all this damage to the country, all this damage in relation to terrorism could have taken place and at the end of the day we would have said 'terribly sorry, but we're not going to proceed with this case in any event'.

"It would have been a dereliction of duty to have taken that view and it would have been absolutely no comfort to people who, heaven forbid, had been injured or lost loved ones in a terrorist attack to say 'we're terribly sorry but we thought we ought to wait 18 months to see if this case could go ahead'."

I don’t accept that the Saudis would threaten to cut diplomatic relations with one of their closest allies. You can say what you like about the House of Saud but they are not in Gadaffi’s universe of lunatic chicanery. This raises the question: why is there suddenly the need to probe BAE over a slush fund? A probable answer is that the SFO recognises that a Night of the Knives for Quangos is imminent and therefore it must make a kill to justify its existence.

It’s absurd that reward for failure and penalties for success could be discussed seriously in the same week. It’s unwise diplomatically and financially to punish one of the nation’s most successful businesses because it operates in a trade that is oiled by tarts and overpriced champagne. The Czech Republic is a close ally and will object to the intimation that ministers were bought with a combination of 8 course dinners, the finest booze known to man and a procession of energetic escorts, exactly as the Saudis were. I hope that the Attorney General ignores the SFO’s overtures; in this context, slush funds are the equivalent of not paying the congestion charge.