Official memos released in court case (pdf)
Witness statement by head of Serious Fraud Office (pdf)
David Leigh and Rob Evans
Saturday December 22, 2007
Tony Blair’s personal role as prime minister in halting the Saudi arms sale bribery investigation is revealed in court documents which the Guardian is publishing in full on its website.
Government memos stamped “Secret” reveal that the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, twice tried in vain to stop Blair interfering in the criminal investigation.
His chief of staff told the cabinet secretary, Gus O’Donnell, on October 3 2006: “The attorney general is of the firm view that, if the case is in fact soundly based, it would not be right to discontinue it.”
This followed Saudi threats of “repercussions” if the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving the Saudi royals and the arms group BAE was allowed to proceed.
But Blair wrote a “Secret and Personal” letter to Goldsmith on December 8 2006, demanding he stop the investigation. He said he was concerned about the “critical difficulty” in negotiations over a new Typhoon fighter sales contract, as well as a “real and immediate risk of a collapse in UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation”.
Blair said these were “extremely difficult and delicate issues” but he knew that constitutionally “any intervention you make … must be your decision alone”. Politicians normally have no right to interfere in a criminal case.
Goldsmith again attempted to resist. He saw Blair three days later and said, according to the official minute, that “while he could see the force of [Blair’s] points … he was concerned that halting the investigation would send a bad message about the credibility of the law in this area, and look like giving in to threats.”
Blair told him “higher considerations were at stake”. He also personally vetoed a proposal that BAE could plead guilty to lesser corruption charges, saying this would “be unlikely to reduce the offence caused to the Saudi royal family”.
The partly sanitised documents emerged yesterday during preliminary hearings of a judicial review brought against the government by anti-corruption campaigner The Cornerhouse.