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Thursday, 10 April 2008

Blood and sand

The words can, worms, chickens and roost come to mind when one reads this story about how a probe into arms deals between the UK and Saudi Arabia was scuppered. Now that the High Court in England has condemned the halting of an inquiry into the whole shameful business, there'll be a lot of people pushing for the truth.

Two judges have said that the director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) capitulated to threats from the Saudi royal family over the deals with Europe's biggest defence company, BAE Systems.

One of them said no one is allowed to interfere with justice in this country. The Reuters story linked to above goes on:

"The law is powerless to resist the specific and, as it turns out, successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom," [Lord Justice] Moses said.

Two anti-arms trade campaigners had said there was "very large scale bribery" of senior Saudi Arabian officials by the arms manufacturer over the state-to-state Al Yamamah deal and said the probe was halted after the threats.

"That threat was intended to prevent the [Serious Fraud Office] director from pursuing the course of investigation he had chosen to adopt. It achieved its purpose," Moses said.

The minutiae of this case will be picked over during the next few days, but it brings to mind another instance of Saudi meddling in Britain's affairs (cultural in this case). It happened in 1980, when a drama documentary called Death of a Princess was shown. It was a fictionalised account, but based on fact, it's believed, of how a Saudi princess was executed in public after daring to fall in love.

There's interesting reading here, here and here – the last being a typescript of a programme that went out in the States, incorporating that film. And you can read more on the BAE shenanigans here with a useful Q&A here (both on the BBC site).

The reason for Saudi interference back then was that the seventh-century "culture" they call Islam was being questioned. Muslims don't like that. Not a bit. As the Wikipedia entry linked to above has it, the film showed "facets of Islamic tradition, custom, society, gender and social roles, sexuality, politics, myth, and identity". This time it's more about money, because the Saudi royals, who are dripping in obscene amounts of dosh, seem not to want any scrutiny of Swiss bank accounts.

Can't think why.

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