Boys behaving badly?

By Simon Barrow
October 1, 2009

Potentially the biggest corporate case in British legal history, concerning the persistent corruption allegations against arms giant BAE Systems, is being treated rather lightly by some sections of the media.

The tone of BBC Radio 4's interview with MP Norman Lamb this morning was an unfortunate example. Constant use of the coy term "bad behaviour" suggested that what was at stake was a matter of careless indiscretion or foolishness rather than allegations of corporate malpractice on a massive scale.

Then extraordinary suggestions were made that it might be "bad for business" to pursue bribery, deceit and corruption, that the rule of law might take a back seat to commercial considerations, that the company might be excused the actions of past directors, or that the Serious Fraud Office - bounced out of an earlier investigation into BAE and arms to Saudi Arabia by the company's friends in government - was somehow trying to "twist the DPP's arm" in legitimately pursuing its evidence.

All these are points that BAE Systems' well-financed PR schmoozers will no doubt be making. The Daily Mail has already leapt to BAE's defence, lamenting a 'miscarriage of justice' before even evaluating the evidence - which is considerable.

The company could face asset removals of up to £1 billion if successfully prosecuted. BAE Systems, let us not forget, is both Britain's largest manufacturer and Europe's largest arms manufacturer.

Ekklesia has more than a passing interest in all this, since our associate director Symon Hill was heading up media relations for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) when they and Corner House bravely challenged the SFO's dropping of the case. They made legal history by winning, but lost the appeal.

The current case is another massive blow to the altogether sordid arms trade, so expect large-scale corporate lobbying to try to kick it into touch.

The spotlight will also come back on to ex-British PM Tony Blair, who played a major role in getting the previous fraud investigation into BAE Systems dropped. This one, however, is an even larger affair.

Whatever else happens, a public enquiry is most certainly needed into the government's murky entanglements with the arms industry.

Keywords:bae | arms trade
Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.