Multinational arms company BAE Systems will appear in court tomorrow (23 November) to agree a 'plea bargain' with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over the sale of a military radar system to Tanzania. But two NGOs have raised questions about the legality of the settlement.
BAE and the SFO agreed the plea bargain in February, but it has not yet gone through the courts. The settlement allows BAE to pay £30 million and plead guilty only to a breach of duty to keep accounting records in relation to payments made to a marketing adviser.
In return the SFO will drop all investigations into BAE. This includes their enquiries relating to BAE deals in South Africa, the Czech Republic and Romania as well as Tanzania.
But the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and The Corner House have highlighted an aspect of the agreement that has so far drawn little attention. They point out that the SFO is undertaking never to prosecute any individual in future if doing so involves alleging BAE to be guilty of corruption.
The two NGOs last week wrote to SFO Director Richard Alderman to say that they “remain deeply concerned about the terms of the plea bargain that the SFO has struck with BAE”.
They say that the SFO has ignored repeated requests to release further details of its undertaking that “in any future proceedings (to which BAE was not a party) the prosecution would not allege that the company was guilty of corruption”.
CAAT and The Corner House contend that the undertaking would limit future SFO prosecutions against individuals if doing so involved making allegations about BAE's conduct and, as such, would appear to make the plea bargain unlawful.
The case “SFO v BAE Systems “ is scheduled for 10.00am in the Westminster Magistrates' Court. At this preliminary hearing a date will be set for a final hearing in 2011 at which a judge will be asked to confirm the final settlement.
CAAT and The Corner House have previously gone to court over the SFO's failure to prosecute BAE.
In 2006, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair pressurised the SFO into abandoning an investigation into BAE's arms deals with the regime of Saudi Arabia. After CAAT and The Corner House took legal action, the High Court ruled that the SFO had behaved unlawfully, although this decision was later overturned by the law lords.
BAE, which arms countries around the world and has been accused of corruption in five continents, has long been accused of undue influence within the corridors of power. Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote in his memoirs that BAE's Chairman had the “key to the garden door at Number Ten”.