UK actions on Saudi defence contract are blow to Anti-Bribery Convention, says Transparency International

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat



Public admission by the government of the United Kingdom that key information was withheld from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) working group on bribery is a blow to the success of the OECD’s anti-corruption convention, Transparency International (TI), the global coalition against corruption, said today.

The UK government must ensure full disclosure of information on the UK-Saudi Arabia Al Yamamah defence contract that is relevant to the OECD’s special review of UK compliance with the convention, the anti-corruption group said. TI also called for the investigation to be immediately reinstated.

As a signatory of the OECD anti-bribery convention, the UK is bound by its requirement to prosecute bribery of foreign public officials.

“The credibility and future enforcement of the OECD anti-corruption convention is under threat by the actions of the UK government,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International. “The convention’s success depends on effective implementation, strict enforcement and the courage of governments to stand up to political pressures and do the right thing.”

The UK’s termination of the investigation is a serious threat to the OECD convention. The government’s assertion that national security concerns overrode its commitment to prosecute foreign bribery opens a loophole that other governments might readily use to sidestep the convention’s provisions. Article Five of the convention forbids termination of a corruption investigation for any reason other than the merits of the case. The convention contains no provision for a national security exception.

"For over a decade, Transparency International has campaigned around the world for new laws to curb the bribery of foreign government officials by multinational corporations. We have seen mounting support for such laws,” Labelle continued. “The first milestone in TI’s global efforts to secure international laws against bribe-paying was the ratification by 36 governments, including all leading industrial nations, of the OECD anti-bribery convention in 1999. Now, this achievement has been placed at risk by the UK's actions, casting a major cloud across the anti-corruption landscape."

Despite significant progress in establishing global and regional anti-corruption agreements, including the landmark United Nations Convention against Corruption, multinational corporations continue to use bribes to secure contracts abroad.

“It is crucial for the future of the OECD’s anti-corruption convention that the facts concerning UK government contracts with the government of Saudi Arabia, and BAE Systems’ involvement, be publicly revealed,” stated Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director of Transparency International. “BAE Systems also faces corruption enquiries in Czech Republic, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Tanzania, and the UK government must actively investigate these allegations. The investigations must be completed quickly, transparently and consistently. No country’s strategic interests should outweigh their obligation to behave ethically and respect their international commitments.”

"The seriousness of the UK's actions cannot be underestimated," said de Swardt. "Multinational corporations use bribes on a grand scale to secure contracts from foreign officials and politicians.”

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Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.

Note to editors:

The 11 June 2007 edition of the BBC programme Panorama included allegations that BAE had paid £1 billion [US $2 billion] over more than a decade to Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, in exchange for facilitating the Al Yamamah defence programme; that these payments were made with the full knowledge of the UK Ministry of Defence; and that the payments were concealed from Parliament and the public. BAE Systems has denied any wrongdoing.

The OECD anti-bribery convention was signed on 17 December 1997 and entered into force on 15 February 1999. The United Kingdom ratified it in 1998.

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