‘We believe that no-one should be above the law, not arms dealers, not Saudi princes, not government ministers’, said Symon Hill of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) yesterday.
He was speaking at a press conference in the wake of a High Court ruling that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully by dropping a corruption inquiry into a 1986 £43bn Saudi arms deal.
Defence manufacturer BAE was accused of making illegal payments to Saudi officials to secure contracts for fighter jets, but the firm maintains that it acted lawfully.
In December 2006, the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, announced that the SFO was suspending its inquiry.
Goldsmith claimed its continuation would have caused ‘serious damage’ to UK-Saudi relations and, in turn, threatened national security.
CAAT’s Hill continued: ‘We believe that might is not right and that the law should be applied without fear, favour or prejudice.’
He added: ‘We were stunned by the government’s hypocrisy and corruption.
‘The UK government tells poor countries that they can’t get UK aid loans for hospitals, schools and other essentials unless they root out corruption.
‘Whilst in Britain, prosecutors are quietly taken to one side and pressured into abandoning a corruption investigation that might upset powerful interests at home and abroad.
‘One law for the rich another for the poor.’
Hill said that in the 16 months culminating in yesterday’s judgement, ‘the government and BAE have repeatedly tried to block us and prevent the facts from coming to light’.
He alleged: ‘BAE spied on Campaign Against Arms Trade and obtained our legal advice.’
For fellow plaintiff Corner House, Susan Hawley said only the campaign in the media ‘to bring the facts to light’ and the ‘resolute commitment of the courts to the rule of law’ had made it possible ‘to hold the government to account’.
She said that ‘the court forced BAE to admit to its paid spies’ and ‘they ruled that the government cannot withhold from the public its response to judicial reviews.’
She stressed: ‘Today the court rules that the decision to terminate the Serious Fraud Office investigation was illegal.
‘All these judgements have strengthened our security and our freedoms – freedoms that were threatened by BAE’s actions, by Saudi Arabia’s actions and by the actions of Tony Blair.
‘In order to protect the rich and powerful and its friends, the government bowed, in effect, to extortion.
‘It was claimed that British lives were at imminent risk on British streets unless this investigation was stopped.
‘The court held that there was no evidence for this.
‘What was really at risk was the rule of law. The imminent threat, as the judges said today, was to justice.’
She insisted: ‘In the light of this judgement, the Serious Fraud Office must continue its investigation into BAE’s Saudi arms deals immediately.
‘We call on Gordon Brown’s government not to stand in its way and we call on the government to pull back from its proposed new legislation to give the Attorney General new unconstitutional and undemocratic powers.’