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Friends and fraud in Britain

Stephen Beard Mar 13, 2007
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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: A senior British official has defended his decision to drop a multi-million dollar corruption inquiry involving Saudi Arabia. In his first public interview, Robert Wardle, head of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, says he stopped the investigation because it was upsetting a key ally in “the war on terror.” From London, Stephen Beard reports.


STEPHEN BEARD: Britain’s Serious Fraud Office had been investigating claims that the U.K.’s largest defense contractor, BAE, had bribed members of the Saudi royal family.

It was alleged that the bribes were paid in the 1980s to secure a multi-billion dollar defense order.

In an interview with the BBC, the head of the Serious Fraud Office. Robert Wardle. said he scrapped the investigation because it was harming Anglo-Saudi intelligence cooperation.

ROBERT WARDLE: That harm would be reflected in a lack of cooperation, so I was told, that would seriously damage national security. It was going to cause serious harm with our relations with Saudi Arabia.

But critics of the decision say there was no evidence that the Saudis would have ended intelligence-sharing because of the probe.

The Saudis had however threatened to cancel a new defense deal with Britain worth more than $20 billion.

Later this week Britain may learn whether by dropping the investigation, it broke an international anti-corruption agreement.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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