The arms trade is one of the most, if not the most, corrupt sectors of the global economy. Over the last decade, a number of the UK’s biggest defence equipment manufacturers have been embroiled in major corruption scandals: Rolls Royce, for example, settled corruption charges with the SFO in 2017; Airbus and its subsidiary GPT Special Project Management are currently under SFO investigation; and AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian helicopter-producing subsidiary of Leonardo, has been implicated in at least three grand corruption scandals over the last 5 years.
Parliament’s Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) has recently been reconvened following a number of years of non-operation following its controversial recommendation to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia. CAEC is empowered to hold the government and weapons manufacturers to account for the content and conduct of arms exports. Corruption Watch UK believes that CAEC has the power and responsibility to act decisively on corruption in UK defence exports, and, as such, has made a detailed written submission to CAEC, which has been placed before its members.
It is clear that the UK arms export regime does not properly consider the risk of corruption in arms sales, even though defence corruption is a major threat to national security of the UK and its allies. We believe that the UK should introduce stand-alone criterion into the Consolidated Criteria that would prevent arms sales to countries where there is a substantial threat of corrupt conduct. Without doing so, we fear that the UK’s arms export regime will continue to allow corrupt deals to take place, to the detriment of the economy and security of itself, its allies, and its trading partners.