Billion dollar bribery
The news that the Serious Fraud Office have asked the Attorney-General to prosecute BAE on corruption charges has raised a hornets’ nest of speculation in the British press about ethics, bribery and business practices. BAE is accused of paying millions of pounds in bribes to win contracts for aircraft in South Africa and the Czech Republic and the sale of air traffic control equipment in Tanzania.
In the past the SFO have investigated allegations of bribery by BAE in Saudi Arabia to win the £43 billion al-Yamamah deal. This was eventually dropped when Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened to retain the fighter contract on the grounds that thousands of British jobs were threatened. He never mentioned the real reason for turning a blind eye, Christian gentleman that he is – the immense profits that were in jeopardy!
So how come the SFO are prepared to proceed with the prosecution of BAE in this case? It would seem that BAE and the SFO were in negotiations about an out-of-court settlement that would have seen BAE pay an enormous great fine of millions without admitting any guilt, but these behind-the-scenes negotiations have broken down probably over the size of the fine or the extent of admitted culpability. We will probably never know the full extent of the skulduggery and chicanery that is going on in this behind-the-doors trickery, but it has been reported that the SFO was looking for up to a £1 billion fine and the BAE was only offering in the region of tens of millions.
The reaction of the British press has been interesting. Some of them have suggested that bribery is the accepted modus operandi with some foreign governments and that Britain should not tie its hands behind its back when dealing with rivals for these lucrative contracts. Others have claimed that if guilt is admitted this may harm BAE in future negotiations for contracts with the USA – their single biggest customer.
The journalist Antonia Senior in her support for BAE is particularly frank in her analysis of the past practices of British commerce. “We may be incorruptible at home, but when dealing with Johnny Foreigner all bets are off. The moral transgressor is the receiver of bribes, not the payer. It’s Johnny’s fault, of course; we can’t expect the same standards from a foreigner. This jingoistic hypocrisy has long been a feature of British adventures abroad, whether they are in the military or economic line. We lied, bribed and slaughtered our way to an empire that we subsequently imbued with Christian piety. The pursuit of profit at the expense of morality has been the basis of our foreign policy for as long as we called ourselves British.” (Times, 2 October)
The BAE bribery case is by no means unique. At the end of September the SFO successfully pursued Mabey & Johnson, the bridge builders for a bribery deal in Iraq and obtained a £6.6 million fine. Indeed this success may have emboldened the SFO to turn the screws on BAE. Whether BAE is eventually prosecuted or some old pals act wins the day it is impossible to tell, but this latest episode is just another example of the duplicity, fraud and criminality that lies at the heart of world capitalism.