Monday, November 20, 2006

Britain's MIC

The Serious Fraud Office has been investigating BAE Systems for quite a while now.

Blair's attitude towards BAE Systems was famously revealed when he enabled the company to sell an unnecessary £28m military air traffic control system to Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in Africa. This is one of the deals which the SFO is looking at. At the time, the World Bank's independent investigators said that the Tanzanians were paying about ten times more than they needed to and the International Civil Aviation Organisation said the system was "dated technology" and not suitable for civil air traffic control as had been claimed by BAE. The government, in the style we've come to know so well, simply denied all this and insisted that this was a good deal for Tanzania.

The SFO is also looking at the links between BAE Systems and the Saudi royal family.
[T]he attorney general in London has faced renewed political pressure from BAE to block the expanding SFO investigation.

The company has hired a City firm, Allen & Overy, to protect its position with the SFO. BAE denies wrongdoing and says it is co-operating with the inquiry. The attorney general Lord Goldsmith is reported to have refused to intervene, and MPs say any move by him to do so would provoke uproar at Westminster. The Saudis also deny any wrongdoing.

Saudi officials are reported to have met Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to discuss the fate of "Al Yamamah 3", the latest multi-billion pound installment of BAE's warplane sales to the Saudis, amid fears for the deal if the Swiss probe is not blocked.

The Powell family have intimate knowledge of the history of the deals. Mr Powell's brother, Charles - Lord Powell - has been on BAE's payroll as a consultant, and his son, Hugh, heads the Foreign Office's security policy department, which is concerned with BAE. But there is no reason to believe any threats would be met with other than an entirely proper response in Downing Street.
The Guargian is famous for it's typos but that last sentence is a classic even for them; the words "other than" are surely not supposed to be there.

To be fair, the article goes on to explain that any threats made by the Saudis would have little impact because they need cooperation from the British government in various matters. In that sense, Downing Street is unlikely to feel the need to respond to Saudi threats.

But that doesn't actually say very much about whether Downing Street will respond properly to an investigation into BAE Systems, Britain's biggest (and the world's fourth largest) defence contractor. I'm guessing that sentence owes a great deal to the Guardian's legal team.

Anyway remember kids, defence contractors absolutely never sell any weapons which are capable of mass destruction. All equipment manufactured by BAE Systems contains a high-tech chip which restricts use exclusively to the killing of really bad people who totally deserved it. Each defence tool also comes with a sticker of a cuddly teddy bear (now with real faux fur) and a lollipop. So that's OK then.

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