The head of defence giant BAE Systems sought to defend the firm’s reputation as the company faced attacks from protesters and shareholders at its annual meeting today.
BAE was at the centre of a 30-month investigation into a multibillion-pound arms deal with Saudi Arabia but the probe was halted in December after the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, intervened.
BAE chief executive Mike Turner told the meeting that the investigation had distorted views of the company and added: “In all respects of our business we behave ethically and uphold the law.”
The firm was met with protests outside the London venue from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which is calling for the Saudi investigation to be reopened.
The Serious Fraud Office probe focussed on allegations of a “slush fund” used by the company to pay Saudi dignitaries to win contracts.
CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said: “The decision to curtail the Saudi corruption inquiry has shocked people from all walks of life.”
BAE chairman Dick Olver told shareholders that the company had a “zero tolerance” stance on corruption and carried out ethics training and vetting across the group’s 88,000 staff.
But one shareholder suggested the company call itself “Arabian Engineering Systems” and another, Nicholas Hildyard, asked outright whether the company had paid bribes.
The chairman replied: “The Attorney General said there was no case to answer so there can have been no bribes.”