26 March 2010 | Helen Gilbert
Campaigners have lost their fight for a judicial review of the UK Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) settlement with defence company BAE Systems.
Social justice groups Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) wanted a judge to assess the lawfulness of the SFO plea agreement with BAE. They argued it fails to reflect the seriousness and extent of BAE’s alleged corruption and does not provide the court with adequate sentencing powers. However, Mr Justice Collins this week refused to grant permission to the groups.
Under the SFO’s proposed settlement, BAE would plead guilty in a UK court only to “accounting irregularities” in its 1999 sale of a radar system to Tanzania and pay penalties of £30 million. The SFO would not then bring prosecutions relating to alleged bribery and corruption in BAE arms deals elsewhere, and would close all its BAE investigations.
Although the judge refused permission for a review, he extended the existing injunction against the SFO. This prevents it from seeking court approval of its BAE settlement for at least a further eight days (until 1 April), during which two campaign groups have a chance to lodge an appeal. CAAT and Corner House are currently taking legal advice on whether or not to appeal.
CAAT spokeswoman Kaye Stearman said: “We are obviously disappointed by the judge’s decision to refuse permission. It implies that the law allows a giant company to pay a small financial penalty for ‘accounting irregularities’ rather than be charged and tried in an open court on more serious criminal charges. The law should apply to all without fear, favour or prejudice."