Yamanagate: la House of Lords cède à la realpolitik

Someone\'s terrorist is another\'s freedom fighter...

Someone's terrorist is another's freedom fighter...


Je vous ai déjà entretenus du volet judiciaire de l’énorme scandale de corruption et de trafic d’influence liée à la colossale vente d’armes britanniques à l’Arabie séoudite (hachek). Pour rappel, suite à des déclarations alléguées du prince séoudien Bandar Bin Sultan Bin Abdelaziz Al Saoud, lui-même soupçonné d’avoir bénéficié de pots-de-vin, selon lesquelles toute coopération anti-terroriste entre le Royaume-Uni et l’Arabie séoudite cesserait si une enquête serait menée par le Serious Fraud Office (SFO), le gouvernement britannique avait annoncé au SFO que des vies britanniques seraient dès lors en jeu, et le directeur du SFO avait décidé de mettre fin à l’enquête. Des associations britanniques avaient attaqué en justice cette décision de mettre fin à l’enquête, et avaient obtenu gain de cause devant la High Court.

Le SFO avait décidé de faire appel de ce jugement devant la House of Lords (cour suprême britannique, sauf pour ce qui est des affaires pénales écossaises). La House of Lords est nettement moins sensible aux considérations constitutionnelles de la High Court, qui estimait fort justement que cèder face au chantage séoudien était la négation même de l’état de droit. Dans un arrêt unanime, la House of Lords accueille l’appel et annule le jugement de la High Court – la décision du SFO de ne plus poursuivre l’enquête sur les pots-de-vin versés à la cleptocratie séoudienne est donc maintenue.

Pour faire bref, les law lords estiment que la question n’est pas tant de savoir si la décision de cèder aux menaces séoudiennes était juste ou mauvaise, mais plutôt si elle était légale. L’appréciation doit porter sur la marge de manoeuvre que la loi accordait au directeur du SFO, et non sur le caractère justifié ou non de la décision du SFO:

41. The Director was confronted by an ugly and obviously unwelcome threat. He had to decide what, if anything, he should do. He did not surrender his discretionary power of decision to any third party, although he did consult the most expert source available to him in the person of the Ambassador and he did, as he was entitled if not bound to do, consult the Attorney General who, however, properly left the decision to him. The issue in these proceedings is not whether his decision was right or wrong, nor whether the Divisional Court or the House agrees with it, but whether it was a decision which the Director was lawfully entitled to make. Such an approach involves no affront to the rule of law, to which the principles of judicial review give effect (see R (Alconbury Developments Ltd) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions [2001] UKHL 23, [2003] 2 AC 295, para 73, per Lord Hoffmann).

42. In the opinion of the House the Director’s decision was one he was lawfully entitled to make. It may indeed be doubted whether a responsible decision-maker could, on the facts before the Director, have decided otherwise.

Une des law lords, la baronne Hale of Richmond, exprime explicitement ses regrets tout en partageant l’opinion unanime de ses confrères:

52. I confess that I would have liked to be able to uphold the decision (if not every aspect of the reasoning) of the Divisional Court. It is extremely distasteful that an independent public official should feel himself obliged to give way to threats of any sort. The Director clearly felt the same for he resisted the extreme pressure under which he was put for as long as he could. The great British public may still believe that it was the risk to British commercial interests which caused him to give way, but the evidence is quite clear that this was not so. He only gave way when he was convinced that the threat of withdrawal of Saudi security co-operation was real and that the consequences would be an equally real risk to « British lives on British streets ». The only question is whether it was lawful for him to take this into account.

53. Put like that, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that it was indeed lawful for him to take this into account. But it is not quite as simple as that. It is common ground that it would not have been lawful for him to take account of threats of harm to himself, threats of the « we know where you live » variety. That sort of threat would have been an irrelevant consideration. So what makes this sort of threat different? Why should the Director be obliged to ignore threats to his own personal safety (and presumably that of his family) but entitled to take into account threats to the safety of others? The answer must lie in a distinction between the personal and the public interest. The « public interest » is often invoked but not susceptible of precise definition. But it must mean something of importance to the public as a whole rather than just to a private individual. The withdrawal of Saudi security co-operation would indeed have consequences of importance for the public as a whole. I am more impressed by the real threat to « British lives on British streets » than I am by unspecified references to national security or the national interest. « National security » in the sense of a threat to the safety of the nation as a nation state was not in issue here. Public safety was.

54. I also agree that the Director was entitled to rely upon the judgment of others as to the existence of such a risk. There are many other factors in a prosecutor’s exercise of discretion upon which he may have to rely on the advice of others. Medical evidence of the effect of a prosecution upon a potential accused is an obvious example. Of course, he is entitled, even obliged, to probe that evidence or advice, to require to be convinced of its accuracy or weight. But in the end there are some things upon which others are more expert than he could ever be. In the end there are also some things which he cannot do. He is not in a position to try to dissuade the Saudis from carrying out their threat. Eventually, he has to rely on the assurances of others that despite their best endeavours the threats are real and the risks are real.

55. I am therefore driven to the conclusion that he was entitled to take these things into account. I do not however accept that this was the only decision he could have made. He had to weigh the seriousness of the risk, in every sense, against the other public interest considerations. These include the importance of upholding the rule of law and the principle that no-one, including powerful British companies who do business for powerful foreign countries, is above the law. It is perhaps worth remembering that it was BAE Systems, or people in BAE Systems, who were the target of the investigation and of any eventual prosecution and not anyone in Saudi Arabia. The Director carried on with the investigation despite their earnest attempts to dissuade him. He clearly had the countervailing factors very much in mind throughout, as did the Attorney General. A lesser person might have taken the easy way out and agreed with the Attorney General that it would be difficult on the evidence to prove every element of the offence. But he did not. (…)

57. For these reasons, although I would wish that the world were a better place where honest and conscientious public servants were not put in impossible situations such as this, I agree that his decision was lawful and this appeal must be allowed.

On notera qu’aucune mesure de rétorsion quelconque n’aura été prise au niveau du Conseil de sécurité vis-à-vis d’un Etat qui menace un Etat étranger de « non-coopération » en matière de lutte anti-terroriste afin de bloquer une enquête sur la corruption ayant bénéficié à ses dirigeants. On peut se dire que l’Etat menaçant en question était l’Iran, la Syrie ou Cuba, les réactions de ce que certains propagandistes nomment « communauté internationale » (« wenn Ich « communauté internationale » höre, entsichere Ich meinen Revolver« ) seraient bien différentes. On peut ainsi valablement penser que les décisions du Conseil de sécurité en matière terroriste ont la légitimité des décisions de la cupola. On se dira aussi que les Etats qui ont compris que la force fait le droit, tels les Etats-Unis, la Chine, la Russie et Israël, ont tout compris, et que les autres se font les complices ou les dupes d’une sinistre mystification.

On notera bien évidemment que le gouvernement britannique n’a pas tiqué, sans doute soulagé que la société BAE soit ainsi partiellement épargnée d’une enquête éclaboussant le principal constructeur aéronautique britannique. On relèvera enfin que les médias mainstream n’ont pas mobilisé leurs disciplinés bataillons d’éditorialistes pour dénoncer le terrorisme d’Etat séoudien.

Bonne nuit les petits!

PS: Pour les insomniaques, je conseille les commentaires critiques – « Oh My Lord, les Lords sont amers » – de l’indispensable blog De Defensa, ainsi que ceux du site anti-corruption du parti britannique d’opposition, les Liberal Democrats.

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