Campaigners challenge halt to arms deals investigation

Campaigning groups The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade have been granted permission by a High Court judge to challenge the Serious Fraud Office's decision to halt an investigation into alleged corruption in relation to BAE Systems' multibillion-pound arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

The judge, Lord Justice Moses, said the issue “cries out for a public hearing” because it involves “matters of concern and public importance”. He said: “It is in everyone’s interest that a full hearing take place.”

The Al-Yamamah contract for the sale of Tornado fighter planes, negotiated by the Thatcher government in 1985, was Britain’s biggest ever arms deal. Police investigated allegations of corruption linked to the contract. But last year Robert Wardle, director of the Serious Fraud Office, called off its investigation into the affair, reportedly for fear that it could undermine cooperation between the UK Government and Saudi Arabia over security.

Caat and The Corner House, an environmental and social justice NGO, argued that the decision was unlawful under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s anti-bribery convention, which expressly rules out the termination of corruption investigations on the grounds of their “potential effect upon relations with another state”.

Symon Hill, media coordinator at Caat, described the decision as “brilliant news for everyone who wants to see an end to arms companies’ influence over government". Nicholas Hildyard, director of The Corner House, said the courts had shown that “no one is above the law: not BAE Systems, not the Government, not Saudi princes”.

The full judicial review hearing has been scheduled for late January and is expected to last two days.

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