State Sponsored Bribery? Airbus’s Saudi Saga and the UK’s Ministry of Defence

The Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into Airbus’s UK subsidiary GPT Special Project management is one of the most politically symbolic investigations on its books.  GPT is alleged to have made suspicious payments to offshore companies acting as subcontractors on a government to government contract between the UK Ministry of Defence and Saudi Arabia’s National Guard.

The similarities with the BAE/Al Yamamah investigation which was dropped in 2006 following political intervention are striking. The dropping of that investigation caused international outrage and seriously undermined the fight against corruption. The question of whether the SFO can successfully prosecute GPT is a question of whether the UK has finally put the BAE/Al Yamamah scandal truly behind it.

Today, Corruption Watch is releasing a report looking at the detailed allegations involving GPT and the role of the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Corruption Watch is urging the government to ensure that there is no political interference in the investigation and prosecution of GPT, and is calling for a full public review of the role of the MOD in overseeing the project on which the alleged wrongdoing occurred.

Corruption Watch also wrote to the UK’s Attorney General with Transparency International UK to urge him to make a statement to Parliament that the UK will fully respect Article 5 of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention when taking key decisions about the GPT case and all future cases. Article 5 prohibits signatories to the Convention from taking into account national economic interest and damage to foreign relations when investigating and prosecuting bribery. The UK has yet to make Article 5 fully binding domestically.

The stakes could not be higher. Just as the UK heads into the turbulent waters of Brexit, it cannot afford to be seen to be rowing back on and undermining key international anti-corruption treaties. The GPT case must not become a re-run of the BAE/Al Yamamah scandal.