Acquittal of two men for making corrupt payments on UK-Saudi arms deal must lead to full independent inquiry into UK government’s role

6 March, 2024 | 3 minute read

Today two men, Jeffrey Cook and John Mason, were acquitted of making corrupt payments between 2007 and 2012 in relation to a major bribery scheme involving UK government defence contracts in Saudi Arabia. GPT Special Project Management Ltd, for whom Jeffrey Cook worked as Managing Director, pleaded guilty to making the same payments in 2021.

Jeffrey Cook was found guilty on a separate charge of misconduct in public office in relation to commissions he received while an employee of the Ministry of Defence between 2004 and 2008. He will be sentenced on 12 April 2024.

John Mason intends to seek costs from the Ministry of Defence and the Attorney General for their conduct in the case, as well as from the Serious Fraud Office.

This case, which was brought to light by whistleblowers in 2010, has revealed extensive and disturbing allegations of government knowledge and potential complicity with alleged corrupt payments that must now be fully investigated. Both Cook and Mason acknowledged that payments were made but argued that these payments were authorised by the Ministry of Defence.

There is a real chance that in deciding to acquit these men on corruption charges, the jury gave serious consideration to the extensive knowledge of UK government officials about, and the role of the Ministry of Defence in authorising the alleged bribes.

It is essential that a full, independent judge-led inquiry is now undertaken to get to the bottom of the Ministry of Defence’s role in these arrangements and how it has conducted itself in relation to the SFO’s investigation. In the immediate term it is essential that the National Audit Office conduct a thorough audit of the MOD’s bank accounts and contracting arrangements in relation to Saudi government to government contracts and publish a report on its findings. We are also calling on the Defence Select Committee to undertake an urgent review of what mechanisms the MOD currently has in place to prevent bribery and protect whistleblowers.

This case may lead to questions about why the Serious Fraud Office was unable to land convictions against individuals for behaviour admitted to by a company. However, in our view, the SFO deserve real credit for bringing this politically sensitive case to court – a case for which they had to wait three years to get consent from the Attorney General to prosecute, and in which they were reliant on the Ministry of Defence to disclose documents. From following the case closely, it is clear to us that the Ministry of Defence has consistently dragged its feet, failed to provide proper disclosure, and has undermined the criminal justice system by doing so.

Comment from Dr Sue Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption:

“These proceedings raise extremely serious questions about the role of successive British governments in facilitating or signing off on payments to benefit Saudi officials on government contracts with Saudi Arabia right up until very recently. The court had no mandate to scrutinise this involvement, so it is absolutely essential that there is now a full judge-led inquiry into the government and MOD’s role in the corruption allegations heard in court and into whether this amounted to a state-sponsored bribery scheme. 

“It is also essential that the National Audit Office review the MOD’s bank accounts in relation to the Saudi contracts and publish its findings and that Parliament looks at whether there are any similar ongoing mechanisms in current MOD contracts. The government and MOD must be held accountable for any role they played in the allegations heard in court.”


Our full briefings and reports on the case can be downloaded on the links below.

Court documents

Click on the links below to view relevant court documents relating to this case.

Corporate conviction of GPT Special Project Management Limited:

Prosecution of Jeffrey Cook and John Mason:

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