The UK Government and arms trade corruption: A short history

Report by Nicholas Gilby on the history of UK Government corruption and the arms trade

Based on archival sources, this discussion paper examines the UK Government’s approach to corruption within the UK arms industry and shows it has very dirty hands. At the time the Defence Export Services Organisation was founded it was known at the highest level that corruption pervaded the arms trade, but civil servants were told to look the other way and not ask awkward questions about the deals they were helping to seal. Hard evidence of official knowledge of corruption in arms deals in Venezuela and  Indonesia is unearthed for the first time. Hitherto unseen documents from the 1970s show how, when confronted with the problem of corruption in the arms trade, officials at the highest level were at pains to ignore their suspicions and devise guidelines to avoid addressing the issue, even allowing publicly-owned companies to continue employing “agents” with no questions asked. It puts the continuing debate over the Export Credits Guarantee Department’s anti-bribery procedures into sharp perspective and demonstrates the incredible irresponsibility of the MoD, DTI, FCO and ECGD in knowingly fostering a corrupt industry.

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