Monthly archives: February 2010

Child Slavery In Uzbekistan

More invaluable work from the Environmental Justice Foundation, in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International. Their latest thoroughly researched report estimates that one million children were subjected to slave labout during the 2009 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.

This is essential work because it gives the lie to false UK, US and EU claims that the human rights situation under the Karimov regime is “improving”, thus “justifying” their continued alliance with Uzbekistan as a logistics base and route for operations in Afghanistan.

Here is a selection of key facts from the report:

?? Children as young as 10 years old can be dispatched to the cotton fields for two months each year, missing out on their education and jeopardizing their future prospects.

?? Uzbekistan is the world’s 3rd largest cotton exporter and earns around US$1 billion

annually from the sale of its cotton to clothing factories primarily in Asia, which in turn

export garments to the west; and to cotton traders, many of which are based in Europe.

?? Reports in November 2009 estimated one million children working in the last harvest.

Cotton picking is arduous labour, with each child ascribed a daily cotton quota of several

kilos that they must fulfil.

?? Children may be compelled to stay in barrack-like accommodation during the harvest.

Living conditions are often squalid. In those places where food is provided to children, it is

inadequate, often lacking in basic nutrition and children can often only access water

from irrigation pipes, which carries health risks.

?? Children can be left in poor physical condition following the harvest; illnesses including hepatitis, injuries and even deaths are all reported. The harvest begins in the late summer, when temperatures in the fields remain high and can continue until the onset of the Uzbek winter. Children are not provided with any protective clothing whilst they work.

?? Children receive little or no reimbursement for their labour, perhaps a few US cents per kilo of cotton picked. However, payments are deducted to cover their travel to the fields and the food they are provided with during the cotton picking season, which can leave them in debt.

The full report can be downloaded from here:

Every year young children die during forced labour in the Uzbek cotton fields. Millions of adults are also conscripted into slave labour. Islam Karimov and Gulnara Karimova get ever wealthier.

It is a stunning fact that Wal-Mart, Tesco, Asda and C&A have been so sickened by Uzbek child slavery that they have voluntarily banned Uzbek cotton and set up, at their own expense, audit systems to ensure there is not Uzbek cotton in products they sell.

Yet no government has used available anti-slavery provisions in international trade agreements to ban Uzbek cotton. The EU has never even discussed the matter while, thanks to the influence of Western governments, UNICEF has never made any statement or taken any position on child slavery in Uzbekistan.

This is arguably the World’s most depraved single act of inter-governmental complicity.

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Disappearing Murder

I sometimes have to seriously query the competence of my publisher. They had a couple of months notice of the radio play of Murder in Samarkand, but Amazon were out of stock before the broadcast even started and now are showing 5 to 9 days dispatch, while I can’t find the book at all on Waterstone’s website.

There would be a good chance that some of the 2 million people who heard the play, casually coming across the book in a bookshop, might buy a copy. But a lady just contacted me having been to five different London bookshops – before she found a copy in Foyles.


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Gladstone Was Right

My MA thesis was entitled “Midlothian and Gladstone”. Here is an extract from one of Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign speeches, in Dalkeith, while the Second Afghan War was raging.

Those hill tribes had committed no real offence against us. We, in the pursuit of our political objects, chose to establish military positions in their country. If they resisted, would not you have done the same? … The meaning of the burning of the village is, that the women and the children were driven forth to perish in the snows of winter … Is that not a fact ?” for such, I fear, it must be reckoned to be ?” which does appeal to your hearts as women … which does rouse in you a sentiment of horror and grief, to think that the name of England, under no political necessity, but for a war as frivolous as ever was waged in the history of man, should be associated with consequences such as these?

There could be no clearer indication of how far we have diminished as a nation. Remember, Gladstone was campaigning in opposition to become PM again, for a third time. No senior politician would ever dare today to say:

If they resisted, would not you have done the same?

Anyone who suggested today that the Afghans have a right to resist foreign occupation would be drowned out in screams of “Wooton Basset” and the false, flatulent patriotism of newspaper proprietors and editors sat on their well-padded arses in comfortable offices,

Gladstone won both Midlothian and the general election. But there are no politicians of anything approaching his stature today. Charlie Kennedy actually understood what Liberalism is; Nick Clegg has neither courage nor prinicple.

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NATO Bomb Kills 21 Civilians In Afghanistan

Afghan civilians are being killed all the time by Nato; it only gets reported when they kill a lot at once, and even then it doesn’t exactly hit the front pages. In the latest incident 21 people have been wiped out from the air – families fleeing the NATO destruction of their homes

Those who have just heard Murder in Samarkand will be sickened to hear that the United States is yet again being complicit with the Uzbeks in faking evidence of al-Qaeda presence in Uzbekistan to justofy the US/Uzbek alliance:

Al Qaeda aims to infiltrate Central Asia to train militants and turn the ex-Soviet region into a zone of unrest, a U.S. envoy said on Saturday.

…In Uzbekistan, the region’s most populous and ethnically diverse nation, President Islam Karimov told Holbrooke he was eager to work closer with the United States over Afghanistan.

“The leader of our nation … expressed Uzbekistan’s firm determination to further develop U.S.-Uzbek relations in a constructive way in light of efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan,” the official UzA news agency said.

Relations between Uzbekistan, long under fire over human rights violations, and the United States have improved in recent years as Washington has shifted focus more to security issues in its contacts with Tashkent, diplomats say.

Uzbekistan is now part of the new NATO supply route and Western nations rarely criticise its rights record. Last year the European Union angered international human rights groups by lifting sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan after a violent crackdown by Uzbek troops on protesters in 2005.

The “violent crackdown” was the murder of at least 700 demonstrators in Andijan. There is no evidence of IMU fighters returning to Uzbekistan, but doubtless we will soon see another spate of flase flag “Bombings” like the ones I investigated in detail on the spot as British Ambassador and outline in Murder in Samarkand.

Hat tip to Mary

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The Independent – Review of Murder in Samarkand

The only review I have seen of Murder in Samarkand on Radio 4 is from Chris Maume in The Independent. While he says some great things about the play:

The terrific Murder in Samarkand

David Hare’s superbly brisk, no-nonsense script

[David Tennant]

put in a fantastic performance

I really don’t agree with his balancing criticisms of David Tennant – I think David pulled off the huge emotional range required brilliantly.

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Sting’s Defence


Sting and the Glamorous Dictator’s Daughter Gulnara Karimova

Sting has come out with a spirited defence of his visit to Tashkent as the guest of Karimov’s daughter:

‘I supported wholeheartedly the cultural boycott of South Africa under the apartheid regime because it was a special case and specifically targeted the younger demographic of the ruling white middle class.

‘I am well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that.

‘I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.

‘I seriously doubt whether the President of Uzbekistan cares in the slightest whether artists like myself come to play in his

But this really is transparent bollocks. He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?

Why does he think it was worth over a million quid to the regime to hear him warble a few notes?

I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer – go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, sat next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick.

Next time you see Sumner on television warbling on about his love for the rain forest, switch him off.


A commenter suggested a boycott of Sting’s music. I was going to agree, but on reflection it would take an enormous effort to track down someone who listens to it, before we could ask them to stop.

Evidently Sting could do with listening to David Tennant in Murder in Samarkand:

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Murder in Samarkand

If you missed the broadcast of David Tennant in David Hare’s adaptation of Murder in Samarkand, or if you just want to hear it again, it is available for the next seven days here:

You can buy the book, and my second book, via the links in the top left hand corner. I should frankly be grateful if you would!

Thank you so many kind comments. I thought the production was brilliant and the performances extremely moving. I found the emotional callouses hadn’t stemmed the tears, and so did Nadira. Mind you I confess I was dead chuffed when the very first person to phone congratulations as the credits were being read was Bianca Jagger.

I have to lead the rest of my life meeting people who will be disappointed because of their mental picture of me as David Tennant. 🙂

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Umida Akhmedova Jailed


This photo evokes so much of what I love about Uzbekistan and its people. Unfortunately it is not the officially approved image of Gulnara Karimova’s shiny new conference centres and resorts. The photographer, Umida Akhmedova, has therefore been charged with “Defaming Uzbekistan”. It carries a potential 6 year prison sentence.

The offence cited is publishing these photographs,

and making a short documentary film critical of the traditional custom that girls have to prove their virginity on their wedding day.

I am particularly touched by Umida’s plight, because it was on precisely the same charge that the 63 year old Mrs Avazova was jailed after passing to me photographs of her dissident son, who had been boiled alive in Jaslyk prison.

To help the campaign for Umida and other political prisoners in Uzbekistan, please contact Amnesty International.

Obama’s envoy Richard Holbrooke is currently visiting Tashkent to agree new military cooperation agreements between the Karimov regime and the USA.

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David Hare and David Tennant “Murder in Samarkand” Broadcasts Today

This is the big day, and I confess to being much too excited about it for a person of my advanced years.

Murder in Samarkand broadcasts today on BBC Radio 4 at 2.30pm.

It has been adapted as a radio drama by David Hare, and I am played by David Tennant.

Do spread the word, and do leave me some feedback when you have herard it. And do buy the book!

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UK and Torture: The Bitter Truth

Saloon bar bigot Bruce Anderson came out with a fierce defence of the government’s use of torture. It could have been written by Torquemada, Walsingham or Franco. To get that vital information about the ticking bomb, it would be morally imperative to torture the terrorist’s wife and children, he concluded.

Interesting is it not that to opine that Palestinian suicide bombers are justified is illegal, but to advocate torture of innocent women and children is patriotic?

I took grave exception because I saw the effects of women and children being tortured in front of suspects in Uzbekistan, where it happens pretty often. I wonder if Anderson would like to wield the electrodes on children himself. The man should be shunned from all civilised society.

What he is too thick to understand is that the “ticking bomb” scenario has never happened and almost certainly never will. His idea of the intelligence world is gleaned from Hollywood. I was delighted today to have the oportunity to publish the true situation in the Evening Standard. They gave me 950 words and I think it was the best turned piece I ever penned.

This is the truth of it:

The key point ?” and one I cannot stress too much ?” is that the vast majority of this material was absolute rubbish. The Uzbek government was eager to convince the US it was fighting a massive Islamic militant threat, so that the US government would continue to give large subsidies to this appalling dictatorship, and particularly to its security services.

The Uzbek government therefore rounded up en masse dissidents, the religious and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and tortured them into admitting membership of al Qaeda or other allied terror organisations, and into denouncing long lists of other “terrorists”.

The tortured were given the lists to sign up to, exactly as done by Stalin’s secret police, the direct institutional ancestor of the Uzbek security service.

The mundane truth is that torture in the “War on Terror” does not bring Hollywood-style information about ticking bombs in shopping malls.

It brings piles of rubbish that clog up our intelligence analysis. Torture gives not the truth but what the torturer wants to hear to make the torture stop. And given the destinations on the extraordinary rendition circuit ?” like Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan, Syria and Uzbekistan ?” the relationship between the torturers and the truth was often very distant indeed.

I can swear to you that none of the intelligence I saw from detainees in Uzbekistan was useful. Much of it was palpably untrue, such as referring to terror training camps in places where we knew they physically did not exist.

Please do read the full piece. Not sure if they are going to open comments on this one.

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Corus: Definition of “To Mothball”

More bullshit from Mandelson.

“To mothball” means “To pretend not finally closed until after the election”.

I do not believe that the UK has a future based on services without a manufacturing base. The consequences of those attitudes are starting to come home to roost. I view it as ludicrous that hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money can be thrown at banks, but nothing at a steelworks.

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Zakhem Roundup

The Ghanaian partner of Zakhem is the extraordinarily wealthy Paul Afoko. There is a fascinating expose of some of Afoko’s activities with Zakhem in Ghana here. The sad thing is the way that money provided for development aid, and wrapped up in that language, is used to line the pockets of the ultra wealthy:

The loan facility, which was approved by the African Development Bank, was packaged as the center piece of a public-private partnership project, as well as a project in line with Ghana’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS), and the banks strategic policy on supporting poverty reduction by improving the investment climate and facilitating public private partnership.

Here is a report of a bribery investigation in a Zakhem project in Liberia:

This whole matter hinges on the taped conversation between Harry Greaves and Aloysius Jappah. Although neither Jappah nor Greaves definitively admitted to who was responsible for initiating the offer of $300,000 USD. It is our findings from their statements during the interrogation that an offer to give bribe or receive bribe was made and that both Mr. Greaves and Mr. Jappah participated in the transaction.

When the United Nations says “Controversial” it means “Corrupt”

Government Cancels Zakhem Contract

(Public Agenda)

The Government of Liberia has cancelled the contract entered into by the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) and Zakhem for the rehabilitation of damaged facilities of the LPRC’s facilities on the Bushrod Island.

Justice Minister Christina Tah said that the contract was not in the interest of the Liberian people and therefore it had to be nullified.

The “controversial” Zakhem contract valued at over US$25 million was negotiated for by the former managing director of LPRC, Mr. Harry Greaves who was later sacked by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

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The Other Book

This reader’s review of The Catholic Orangemen of Togo appeared on Amazon yesterday. I like it very much because it seems to understand what I was trying to do. I really enjoy reading the readers’ reviews on both Amazon and on Facebook virtual bookshelf. When you write a book you crave feedback from those who experience reading it.

I remain very sad that my publisher buckled at the libel threats from Schillings on behalf of mercenary killer Tim Spicer, and I had to publish The Catholic Orangemen myself. The result was a much smaller readership. Murder in Samarkand deals with the extremes of human experience; The Catholic Orangemen is less spectacular, but I think it is better written and it contains the little wisdom I distilled from over a decade of working intensively on Africa and its problems,

As in his earlier book, Murray is enormously entertaining. But this is also by far the most informative book I have read about the nature of the problems modern African states tend to have. For instance he describes how many modern African countries have developed very restrictive trade agreements which allow them to accept subsidised US or EU produce, thereby bankrupting their own businesses, but won’t trade with each other because so many businesses are corrupt monopolies owned by relatives of government officials and they don’t want their neighbours to get the jump on them.

Murray also details a colossal level of corruption and bloodletting among all the West African countries, even the relatively stable Ghana. In the earlier part of the book Murray details his role in London having responsibilities for West Africa as a whole. Later he became Deputy High Commissioner of Ghana.

His most remarkable achievement here was in going to enormous lengths to facilitate a free election at the point when Jerry Rawlings had to give up power, having served two terms, and by virtue of incredible levels of organisation and very hard work managed to get a result.

This book is also frequently hilarious, never more so than in recounting his stage management of a Royal visit to Ghana, Duke of Edinburgh and all. At one stage the royal support team set up camp, so to speak, at an Accra hotel, at another the High Commissioner is gloriously upstaged. Some sections remind me of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Black Mischief’. Murray speaks the truth and sometimes its shocking, often it confirms in glorious detail what one had often suspected, and sometimes it’s hilarious.

This book is set in the 90s, before Murray went to Uzbekistan, but was written quite recently, and Murray wasn’t as cynical about the morality of his own government during his stay in Africa as he later became. But what he has to tell us about the Arms for Africa affair reveals that what has shocked so many of us about Blair’s involvement in the Iraq war was not a one-off, driven by some compulsion to kowtow to the Americans. Long before 9/11 he was ignoring the painstaking work of whole departments of the Foreign Office to get his mates off the hook with their massively profitable corrupt arms dealing.

To anyone who loves Africa, and to anyone who wants chapter on verse on exactly how degraded the conduct of our government has become, this is essential reading.

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Pat O’Donnell Jailed

The jailing of Pat O’Donnell in Ireland for seven months for “obstructing a Garda” seems an appalling attempt to end local environmental opposition to a massive Shell pipeline project. Having seen so much of Shell’s appalling bullying of local communities in the Niger Delta, I did not really expect to see the same behaviour in Ireland.

A few months ago masked thugs attacked Pat and his brother and sank his fishing boat, thus ruining his livelihood. The Garda did nothing. Now they have arrested him for demonstrating, and a complicit judiciary has given a sentence for peaceful opposition activity that belongs in Uzbekistan, not in Ireland.

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No Muslim, So No Terrorism updated

A tragedy in Austin, Texas where a man flew a light aeroplane into an office building. Reports – which may or may not be confirmed – indicate that the man set fire to his home first, and left a suicide note. The building included Federal government offices.

At least the apparent suicide is dead. But the White House’s immediate reaction that

“the crash did not appear to be an act of terrorism”

bears a little bit more thought. If Joseph Andrew Stack, a deranged man with a grudge against the IRS, had been a deranged Muslim, would this apparent suicide attack have been “Not terrorism”?


I do not vouch for the authenticity of this, but this is alleged to be from his “suicide note”.

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.

That is the CLG site; I subscribe to the newsfeed, as can you at the bottom of that page. I recommend the feed as an excellent source of leads to alternative stories for the intellectually curious.

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Sorry about the unintentional ambiguity in my last post. As of three weeks ago, when I was last on the Zakhem site, they had not even begun to dig the foundation trenches, and the turbines were not on site. There was no assembled pipework. So I am convinced that the photo published by CitiFM could not be the Zakhem site. The most likely explanation is that it is either the VRA store or the Sunon Asogli power station.

CitiFM however tell me that they took the photos in good faith believing they were photographing the Zakhem site. I accept that, and CitiFM are going to check up on what they have photographed. That is why I have removed my post about CitiFM.

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Ghana Corruption

The debate in Ghana over my article on corruption has become very fierce. Zakhem International are threatening legal action. The Minister of Energy and Moses Asaga have said things which are broadly supportive of me.

I outlined today that I had been raising the Zakhem contract with both NPP and NDC governments at the highest levels. I was so concerned at serial payments being made to Zakhem with no work undertaken that I took Kwadwo Mpiani, then Chief of Staff to the President, to the site. He indicated to me that he was very disappointed with progress and that he had been told the foundations were finished, when in fact they were not started.

Kwadwo’s brother Sarpong came on air in a radio interview today and said that Kwadwo did not say that. I am sure that he did (and there were other witnesses), but I don’t quite understand Sarpong’s point. It was plain from this and other conversations with Kwadwo that Kwadwo was not involved in any corruption. Equally I found John Kuffour not well informed on the issue but disappointed with the lack of progress.

I then raised it with the new government, with Vice President John Mahama, and with Energy Minister Joe Oteng Adjei. They initiated an investigation which I believe is ongoing.

Zakhem have put out a statement in which they claim they had received only $39 million. That is contrary to my information, which I believe to be well sourced. They also give a breakdown of how $39 million was spent. If I find it, I will post a link.

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Jack Straw, Anti-Corruption Champion

This is particularly amusing. The British governemt has responded to my exposure of their attempts to thwart anti-corruption investigations in Ghana. They could not bring themselves to use my name, and sought to denigrate the article as anonymous internet comment. (In fact it was written for Ghana’s Insight newspaper which has been conducting a series of investigations into this matter).

This is the official British government statement:

Recent allegations circulated on the internet assert that the UK Government is trying to stop Ghanaian anti-corruption investigations. This is demonstrably false and deliberately misleading.

It then details the only anti-corruption abroad prosecution ever brought against a British company, the Mabey and Johnson case (M and J actually did a lot of good in Ghana, but that’s a long and different story).

But then comes the real jaw dropper:

The British Government’s opposition to bribery and corruption is unequivocal: The Foreign Bribery Strategy, launched by Anti-Corruption Champion Jack Straw on 19 January 2010, builds on the government’s anti-corruption work over the past three years and aims to help the UK strengthen its reputation as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. And the new Bribery Bill, making its way through Parliament at present, signals a concerted effort to make the UK a leader in international anti-corruption efforts.

Have these people no shame? Jack Sraw anti-corruption champion? The MP for BAE? The man who has spent 13 years in government fighting for the interests of BAE and shielding them from successive investigations and prosecutions for corruption?

The man who broke anti-treating laws in his own election?

Jack Straw is a the epitome of the corrupt New Labour machine politician. Now for some news from genuine anti-corruption champions:

As part of its continuing efforts to press the UK government to stop

turning a blind eye to the corrupt activities of British corporations

abroad, The Corner House this week joined Campaign Against Arms Trade

(CAAT) to request a judicial review of a recent controversial plea

bargain that would let arms manufacturer BAE Systems off the hook for

alleged bribery in several European and African countries.

Nicholas Hildyard, for The Corner House, said of the decision by the

UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to allow the deal:

‘Plea bargains should only ever be entertained when companies have

really come clean. BAE has not. Once again, an SFO decision has

reinforced the UK’s reputation for letting big companies get away with


He added:

‘The SFO’s blatant disregard for the rule of law is damaging lives and

democracy abroad. We are undertaking this action in solidarity with all

those affected.’

Lawyers acting on behalf of The Corner House and CAAT wrote to the SFO

Director on Friday 12 February to signal their intention to request the

judicial review of the SFO-BAE settlement.

Under the SFO settlement, announced on 5 February 2010, BAE would plead

guilty to minor charges of ‘accounting irregularities’ in its 1999 sale

of a radar system to Tanzania for which the SFO proposed it should pay

penalties of 30 million pounds sterling. The SFO would not bring charges

relating to alleged bribery and corruption in BAE’s arms deals elsewhere.

The basis for the legal challenge is that, in reaching this settlement,

the SFO failed properly to apply prosecution guidance (including its own

guidance). In particular, the plea agreement fails to reflect the

seriousness and extent of BAE’s alleged offending, which includes

corruption and bribery, and to provide the court with adequate

sentencing powers.

The groups also argue that the SFO has unlawfully concluded that factors

weighing against prosecuting outweigh those in favour.

Kaye Stearman, CAAT’s spokesperson, says: ‘It is in the public interest

that BAE should not be let off the hook.’

The groups’ lawyers also requested that the Serious Fraud Office delay

applying for court approval of its settlement with BAE Systems. If it

does not do so, the two groups will seek an injunction against the court


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