Al Yamamah: High Court rules against Labour

Well – hurrah! The High Court has just ruled that it was illegal for the Serious Fraud Office to drop its investigation into corruption around the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Of course – the reason the SFO dropped the investigation was that the Prime Minister and Attorney General put heavy pressure on them. As I’ve said before – so much for Labour’s ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric when they put the pressure on to axe criminal investigations when it suits.

What now? Well, Gordon Brown – here’s your chance to step up and show you really are a change from Tony Blair’s discredited regime. Will you now back a full investigation and see it through, to wherever the allegations of law breaking take it?

We should also see a public inquiry into how on earth we ended up in this mess – where Labour Party ministers pressurised the SFO into breaking the law. I and my colleagues have been calling for an inquiry for some time – but there’s no time like the present to sign our petition if you haven’t yet.

Al Yamamah: excellent news from the courts

Hurrah! There is now going to be a judicial review into Labour’s decision to pull the plug into the UK-Saudi Al Yamamah arms deal corruption investigation.

For all Labour’s talk about being tough on crime, they axed this investigation, they’ve tried to hinder the US’s investigation, and there’s no decent excuse for not taking corruption in international arms deals seriously. As I wrote previously:

Imagine you’ve been burgled and (by a small miracle!) someone is up in court, charged with the burglary. How impressed would you be if the accused said, “OK, I did do it – but you have to understand. I’m a poor student at the local university and all the French and US students there steal things too, so it wouldn’t be fair if I was left out and had to make do without the proceeds of crime too?” Not very I think! But that’s pretty much the excuse so often rolled out to brush away corruption around international arms deals – everyone else gives out bribes you know, and it would be so unfair and unforgivable if we didn’t too.

You can read the rest of my case over on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Corruption is corruption is corruption

When Saudi Hawk fightersI’ve talked before about corruption and the international arms trade – with the allegations around the Al Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia particularly in mind – it’s not been uncommon to get feedback about these sorts of crimes being – well – ok really, because everyone is at it, aren’t they?

Well – that’s not my view! So I’ve done a piece, published earlier today on Liberal Democrat Voice which addresses the issue head on:

Imagine you’ve been burgled and (by a small miracle!) someone is up in court, charged with the burglary. How impressed would you be if the accused said, “OK, I did do it – but you have to understand. I’m a poor student at the local university and all the French and US students there steal things too, so it wouldn’t be fair if I was left out and had to make do without the proceeds of crime too?” Not very I think! But that’s pretty much the excuse so often rolled out to brush away corruption around international arms deals – everyone else gives out bribes you know, and it would be so unfair and unforgivable if we didn’t too.

You can read the rest of my case over on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Talking to the government about corruption

Found myself on Corruption Panel – a cross-party ad hoc grouping of three MPs, one Baroness and one adviser from Transparency International. We were meeting with Ian McCartney, Minister from the DTI, to pursue what the Government are doing in terms of getting their act together on this scarring issue that is damaging our international standing and our business reputation.

Whilst we were not there to talk about BAE and the current scandal – it is pretty hard to divorce one from t’other. For most of the meeting listened to what was put to the Minister and what the response was. What I hear is that the Government is working hard to tackle corruption. There is an action plan – and it is progressing in terms of implementation. However, the big missing chunk, from this ‘plan’ is the legislation. (Ironic really when you consider how Labour passed new legislation at the drop of a hat – or a tabloid headline – in so so many other areas).

And the other big black mark is Al Yamamah – with the OECD coming to check up on us after the Government dropped the investigation into the bribes to Saudi shenanigans.

The OECD is very angry with us. I have no doubt that the US will launch an investigation into the BAE stuff – especially as BAE are big players in the US military market. The US – like France – has a much better track record than we do on corruption – they actually go ahead and prosecute people.

Who is more corrupt: us or the French?

Before A French flaglast Monday’s Panorama about the Al Yamamah bribery scandal (in brief: lots of allegations about BAE breaking the law and bribing Saudis to get a big arms contract; big criminal investigation finds lots of evidence; but the investigation was axed before being concluded; both the BBC and The Guardian have unearthed plenty more since then) I emailed out to quite a few people to let them know about the TV show.

The gist of a few responses was that bribery being illegal didn’t matter – everyone does it – so if you want the business you have to be willing to bribe. I’m going to write about this in more detail soon (and I wonder how people with this view would respond if someone burgled them and the burglar said, ‘oh, that’s ok – loads of people carry out burglaries, so you can’t really expect me to be different’!), but I just wanted to highlight now the difference with France – there corruption allegations involving arms deal and powerful people with top political connections do get followed through; see here for example.

If France can take corruption seriously and prosecution people (and the US prosecutes people too), why should we turn a blind eye to corruption?

(And let’s not forget – there are very, very few countries that could have sold jet fighters to Saudi Arabia – it really is feasible to stop corruption in these sorts of large arms contracts as there is – or was until the UK took its ball away – a strong international consensus to prosecute bribery).

And as for boy David and “tough on crime” Conservatives – they haven’t been willing to speak up for enforcing the law on Al Yamamah either. I guess Labour and the Tories are just leaving it to the Liberal Democrats to be tough on crime!

What next for international development?

Addressing the All Party Group on Overseas Development today. In weekly succession they have had Gareth Thomas (Labour Minister), Andrew Mitchell (Tory) and obviously saving the best til last – me – today! The title of this series is ‘What next for International Development? Political Perspectives.’

Despite the Labour Deputy Leader hustings on International Development being scheduled at the same time – the room was comfortably filled. Speaking on a subject where everyone in the room is an expert is far more testing than speaking to the public!

I spoke for about 40 minutes and then took 50 minutes of questions. It was very enjoyable and you can read my speech on my website. But for an abridged version – I said the Government has no consistency about where it is going between its different arms; that corruption eats up huge amounts of the money, hindering the good work that we try to do with development and aid – and that tackling corruption would now be seen as a bit rich given our current squalid failure to see through investigations into BAE and the Al Yamamah arms deal with the Saudis. But all of this is dwarfed by the complete failure of the Department for International Development to make the coming cataclysm of climate change central to its development funding programs. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Jonathan Fryer has an account of the meeting over on his blog. Shame about the photo though!

Al Yamamah: Panorama, 8.30pm, tonight

Al Yamamah: sign the Corruption is a Crime petitionTonight (Monday) Panorama on BBC1 will be screening an investigation into the bribery scandal engulfing BAE, our government and the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

There’s advance information about the show on Panorama’s website – where you’ll also be able to catch the program if you miss it this evening:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/default.stm

It’s a massive scandal – especially with the UK’s decision to drop the criminal investigation into the bribery allegations. But corruption is a crime, wherever and whoever carries it out – and for all Labour’s talk of being tough on crime, when it suits they seem happy to turn a blind eye.

The way to fight corruption in international deals is to enforce the international agreements that exist – not to ignore them, nor to (as The Guardian has reported last week) conceal evidence from international corruption probes.

You can sign our petition for a proper inquiry into why the Al Yamamah investigation was dropped – and get more information about the whole case – at: www.corruptionisacrime.com

Dinner in Blackheath

Invited to a lunch by Carol Stone (political society hostess) on behalf of Camelot. Whilst it was Chatham House rules in terms of the discussion – so can’t say a word – can say that it was mainly peopled by bright, shiny Tory PPC wannabees, no Labour, two other Liberal Democrats and me! It was a girls only affair. And what was absolutely wonderful was that the lunch was healthy and low cal! A salmon fillet with a few roasted vegetables and then a beautifully laid out plate of bits of delicately cut fruit for each of us. Soooooooooooo much better than boys meals!

In the evening is was over to Blackheath Liberal Democrats Supper Club. I was the guest speaker, talking about international development. As ever with this area, there are experts in bits of the field everywhere I go – so I often pick up good info from the audience – and this being no exception.

I asked anyone there who was a GLA wannabe, a parliamentary wannabe or a Euro wannabe to identify themselves. This is a good time for socials and campaigning as those seeking selection are attending everything everywhere – and a good portion of hands went up. Well done to all of you for doing what you need to be doing!

It was a very pleasant evening – and as ever – informative. The key ‘ask’ from me was to deliver something that local activists can campaign on. Well – that is the point! I am trying to focus on areas where Liberal Democrats can make a difference – like education – as well as holding St Hilary to account! Although I suspect he’s not going to be in the job much longer – moving on to higher things when PMs change. But as I did point out to Blackheath – he is the Minister for Combating Corruption – and yet was not even consulted on the government’s decision to call off the Serious Fraud Office dogs who were about to bite BAE over the Al Yamamah Saudi deals.

UPDATE: You can read two blog accounts of the dinner here and here.

Tanzania: another case of BAe corruption allegations

Corruption is major news today. No – not (just) the second arrest of Lord Levy, but the opposition debate on the stinking deal involving BAe (the alleged ‘briber’); the Government (who issued an export license for a military air traffic radar control system for Tanzania) and Barclays Bank who loaned Tanzania the money.

Basic story – BAe sell Tanzania this radar system which is far too expensive and sophisticated for Tanzania’s real needs, and yet only covers one third of the country. Price tag: a hefty £28 million.

Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and a country to whom we are pouring in aid. So is this a sensible deal?

Barclays Bank appears to give them a loan on concessionary rates – as a commercial one would have too high interest and break the criteria imposed by the Government on granting export licenses for arms and military radar etc.

This all broke wide-open when two middle-men owed up to having been bribed $12 million in a Swiss Bank to see this deal through. Clearly this all stinks and that was my first debate leading on International Development for the Liberal Democrats. My colleague Norman Lamb had done a lot of work on this in 2002, so good steps to follow in! You can read my speech in Hansard.

This was a Tory Opposition Day motion, very narrowly defined so as not to stray into even more murky territory of the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia on which the Labour Government intervened to stop the Serious Fraud Office investigating corruption. The Tories did not want this mentioned as they were hopelessly compromised as the deal was struck when they were in power – and there is also the matter of the financial relationship between one of the middlemen on the deal and the Conservative party.

Of course Labour said it was right to have granted the license to export the traffic control system – but it is quite clear that this was not a kosher deal. So – we wait for the Serious Fraud Office to pursue its investigation all the way.