Insights from the UK and beyond
BAE, the SFO and time travel
That’s the bluff from Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and its biggest defence firm, BAE Systems, is having none of it.
The Lockheed scandal of the 1970s forced the United States to toughen its anti-bribery laws but the British quietly left their laws wide open for decades.
It worked a treat.
UK firms enjoyed a competitive advantage over U.S. rivals and were able to do battle in arms exports versus freewheeling rivals from France, Germany, Russia and beyond.
BAE is now Europe’s biggest defence company and has even cracked the Top 10 in sales to the Pentagon.
Britain’s economy has profited too, especially from the Al Yamamah arms-for-oil export pact with Saudi Arabia – at an estimated 43 billion pounds ($69 billion) by far the country’s biggest ever export deal.
Remember it? It’s the one the Serious Fraud Office probed until late 2006 when then Prime Minister Tony Blair, under pressure from the Saudis and citing national security, quashed it.
Turning a blind eye is sometimes hard, but a 43 billion pound eye patch does wonders.
The Serious Fraud Office has been smarting ever since.
So it is back, mounting a stand, hoping to reassert its authority with a case involving BAE and far smaller defence deals done in South Africa, the Czech Republic and Tanzania.
It’s true, regulation is back in vogue, with politicians busy talking the world back out of recession and vowing tougher rules to avert another financial meltdown.
Little about how they all missed this crisis, but a lot on the great ideas they have for spotting it next time.
The Serious Fraud Office’s sleight-of-hand is even more breathtaking.
They want time travel — to use today’s laws to prosecute yesterday’s crimes.
Can they be serious?