‘NO REGRETS’ SAYS GOLDSMITH – over halting Fraud Office inquiry

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Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith yesterday called on the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) not to re-open its corruption probe into the 1986 so-called ‘Al-Yamamah’ arms deal.

This is in spite of last Thursday’s High Court ruling that the SFO acted unlawfully in 2006 by dropping its probe into allegations of bribery by BAE to secure a contract to build fighter jets for Saudi Arabia.

The High Court case over the £43bn arms deal was brought by The Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

The two groups argued that the SFO decision was influenced by government concerns about trade and diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.

Lord Justice Moses said that the SFO and the government had given into ‘blatant threats’ that Saudi co-operation in the fight against terror would end unless the probe into corruption was halted.

Saudi Arabia is also reported to have threatened to cancel last year’s £20bn deal to buy 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets from BAE Systems.

Speaking about his 2006 order for the SFO to drop its probe, Goldsmith said yesterday: ‘I don’t regret the decision that was taken.

‘It was of course uncomfortable. . .

‘But I believe it was the right decision to take in the public interest in order to prevent terrorism.’

Claiming ‘an important point of principle’, he said: ‘It has always been the duty of a prosecutor to weigh up the case against the public interest, and if it isn’t in the public interest to proceed, not to do so.

‘I’m concerned that this court decision seems to be challenging that and I hope the Serious Fraud Office will decide to appeal the decision for that reason’.

Goldsmith was speaking in the knowledge that the Tories have backed planned government legislation, contained in a new Constitutional Renewal Bill, giving new powers to the Attorney General to halt inquiries in the national interest.

Tory shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the question remained whether the al-Yamamah investigation was called off for reasons that were exceptional.

However, he strongly backed the ‘principle’ that governments should be able to set aside an investigation if there is a serious threat to national security.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC’s Any Questions programme on Friday night that continuing the SFO investigation would have jeopardised the lives of British citizens and the Army.

Asked whether the investigation should be reopened, Defence Secretary Des Browne said it was a matter for the court.

The Liberal Democrats maintain that the Attorney General should not get new powers, and want the SFO’s investigation re-opened.