BAE has earned more than £40 billion from the deal, by selling military planes to Saudi Arabia. There’s long been strong evidence of corruption — but the SFO abandoned an inquiry into the deal, quite possibly under political pressure.
Now, via Wikileaks, we have more details both of the evidence, and on how the SFO were pressured to drop the case. The SFO had evidence that:
- BAE paid £73 million to a Saudi prince who had “influence” over the Al-Yamamah defence contract and that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe another “very senior Saudi official” received payments;
- The contractor was being covertly investigated by the SFO for carrying out a “potential fraud” against a government department;
- BAE allegedly circumvented anti-bribery laws by making “substantial payments” to overseas agents employed by the Saudi government;
- Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, then British ambassador in Riyadh and now a BAE Systems’ director, “had a profound effect” on the decision by Robert Wardle, then SFO director, to end the investigation.
There’s also some media politics going on here. The Guardian was long the most active newspaper following the Al-Yamamah deal. Much of their investigation was conducted by David Leigh, who also led the Guardian’s Wikileaks coverage, and is now publicly squabbling with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.
So David Leigh has seen another newspaper get a scoop connecting two of his biggest investigations — surely the result of some kind of personal politics. It also makes me wonder whether the Guardian does have all the Wikileaks documents. Surely Al-Yamamah is one of the first things David Leigh would have looked for, once he got his hands on the cables?
Or perhaps I’m over-thinking this, and the Telegraph just happened to read the relevant cable before Leigh did.