Arms giant BAE Systems will be in the dock at Southwark Crown Court in London on Monday (20 December) to agree a 'plea bargain' with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Supporters of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) will hold a colourful pageant outside the courthouse to illustrate the nature and extent of BAE's wrongdoing.
The court hearing is expected to sign off the settlement agreed between the SFO and BAE on 5 February 2010. Under this agreement, BAE pay a fine of £30 million and plead guilty to ”accounting errors” in Tanzania.
In return, attempts by the SFO to prosecute BAE for alleged corruption will be dropped. The SFO will drop its investigations not only into BAE's deals in Tanzania, but also into deals in the Czech Republic, Romania and South Africa.
Before the court hearing, CAAT will display a giant puppet representing BAE Chairman Dick Olver. The Olver puppet will hand out peanuts to illustrate the paucity of the fine.
“Some people will see the BAE guilty plea and fine as a punishment, but that's far from the truth,” said CAAT's Kaye Stearman today (16 December).
She added, “BAE is admitting only to accounting errors, not to corruption charges. Even if BAE is ordered to pay the full £30 million fine, it is still peanuts in their reckoning and far less than the real costs paid by the people of Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries.”
An earlier SFO investigation, into BAE's arms deals with Saudi Arabia, was dropped in 2006 after the intervention of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. After legal action brought by CAAT and The Corner House, the High Court ruled that the government and SFO had acted unlawfully in dropping the inquiry, although this decision was later overturned by the law lords.
BAE has long been criticised for arming countries around the globe, including oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The company is facing allegations of corruption in five continents and is accused of exercising undemocratic influence within the UK government.