Blair defends massive bribery


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Blair defends Saudi probe ruling

The SFO was investigating claims that Britain's biggest defence firm BAE had 
paid bribes to secure an arms deal with Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. BAE has 
always denied the claims.

'Effectively blackmailed'

But on Thursday the attorney general said the investigation was to be stopped, 
because of doubts over a potential prosecution and on grounds of national 

It came weeks after reports that the Saudis were threatening to pull out of a 
deal to buy 72 Eurofighter jets from BAE and deal with France instead.

The Lib Dems argue it was "effectively blackmail" by the Saudis and the SFO 
decision "came from the top".

        Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for
        our country...that strategic interest comes first
        Tony Blair

Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels, Mr Blair said he had put to one side the 
effect on "thousands of British jobs and billions worth of pounds for British 
industry" - basing a decision on this would have potentially put Britain in 
conflict with international law.

He said his role as prime minister was to advise on what was in the best 
interests of the country.

Prosecution doubts

"Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important for our country in 
terms of counter-terrorism, in terms of the broader Middle East, in terms of 
helping in respect of Israel and Palestine. That strategic interest comes 

He said the probe would have led to months or years of "ill feeling between us 
and a key partner and ally and probably to no purpose" and he was certain the 
right decision had been taken.

Speaking later on the BBC's World At One programme, Lord Goldsmith said the 
decision had to be made on the merits of the case.

"There were some very big problems with this and my judgement was it [a 
prosecution] wouldn't succeed," he said.

The prime minister's spokesman also said the impact on jobs had been a 
"consideration", but was not the reason the probe was dropped.

'Damaging precedent'

But Sir Menzies Campbell told the BBC the government could not "have it both 
ways" and has demanded to see the attorney general's legal advice on the 

He said it had been a political decision, but any decision into whether a 
prosecution is pursued should be done "entirely independently".

"We are entitled, I think, to a much clearer exposition of how this decision was
taken. It creates a very damaging precedent which Britain will come to regret."

Mr Blair also denied accusations he had tried to "bury bad news" by deliberately
timing his police interview on the cash for honours allegations to coincide with
the SFO announcement, and the publication of Lord Stevens' report into the death
of Princess Diana.

On Thursday, Mr Blair became the first sitting prime minister to be interviewed 
as part of a criminal investigation - but Downing Street stressed he spoke to 
police as a witness and not a suspect.

On Friday he repeated Downing Street's claim that he was within his rights as 
Labour leader to nominate a number of working peers every year.

The rows threaten to overshadow his planned trip to the Middle East in which he 
hopes to make progress on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Published: 2006/12/15 17:52:17 GMT


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