The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has confirmed that a former agent of the arms company BAE Systems has been charged with corruption offences. The news has been welcomed by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), who say that it is “time that the truth around BAE’s activities came out in court”.
The news could mark a breakthrough in attempts to prosecute BAE, which arms countries around the world and is facing allegations of corruption in five continents.
Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, an Austrian national, appeared at Highbury Magistrates’ Court in London, where it was alleged that he “conspired with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments” to officials in the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary. The allegations relate to deals to supply SAAB/Gripen fighter jets between 2002 and 2008.
He was remanded for a week and will appear in court again on Friday (5 February). The Attorney General, Patricia Scotland, must now give the go-ahead for prosecution.
Describing the arrest of Mensdorff-Pouilly as a “first step”, CAAT spokesperson Kaye Stearman said, “We hope that Lady Scotland will not stop the case from proceeding. It is time that the truth around BAE's activities came out in court.”
In practice, it would be very difficult for the government to stop the case, given the outrage caused in 2006 when former Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded the SFO to drop its investigation into BAE’s deals with the regime of Saudi Arabia. That incident triggered a high-profile legal challenge and was condemned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
However, it remains to be seen whether the prosecution of Mensdorff-Pouilly will lead to a wider prosecution of BAE officials, particularly those in more senior positions within the company.
BAE have declined to comment on the arrest.
The SFO confirmed that it is also continuing to investigate allegations of corruption in relation to BAE deals with South Africa and Tanzania.
BAE Systems have long been accused of undemocratic influence within the UK government. The former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote in his diaries that the chair of BAE had the "key to the garden door at Number Ten”.