* SFO spokesman says keen on "quick resolution"
* BAE says investigation is still ongoing
By John Bowker and Paul Hoskins
LONDON, Sept 30 British prosecutors are hopeful
of an imminent conclusion to the long-running investigation into
allegations of bribery and corruption by BAE Systems (BAES.L),
Europe's biggest defence contractor.
Reuters last week quoted sources close to the case as saying
that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) wanted BAE to plead guilty
and agree to a substantial fine by Sept. 30 or face possible
criminal prosecution. [ID:nN24478509]
Although no formal announcement is expected on Wednesday, a
spokesman for the SFO told Reuters that the organisation had
hopes for a swift conclusion.
"The SFO is endeavouring to achieve a resolution as quickly
as possible and the investigation continues," the spokesman told
A spokesman for BAE would give no indication on whether the
process was near an end after more than five years.
"The company is working with regulators towards that end
(the conclusion of the investigation) and is providing access to
people, information and premises whenever requested," he said.
The SFO's probe involves arms deals in the Czech Republic,
Romania, South Africa and Tanzania going back to the 1990s.
It is not yet known whether BAE will offer up a guilty plea,
but a lawyer with specialist knowledge of the area said it was
"It is not obvious what the upside is for BAE to enter a
guilty plea or what the downside could be if no plea is
entered," said George Brown, Global Regulatory Enforcement
partner at law firm Reed Smith, pointing out that proving
criminal intent in such cases can be very difficult.
He said the precedent set by bridge maker Mabey & Johnston,
which last week became the first firm to be prosecuted in
Britain for overseas corruption, was unrevealing. [ID:nLP594139]
"The information released in the Mabey & Johnston case does
not show with any certainty that, had the SFO taken the matter
to court, they would have secured a conviction," he added.
If BAE does not plead guilty legal proceedings could ensue,
which are likely to take some time.
An investigation into allegations that BAE bribed Saudi
Arabian officials was dropped in December 2006 after then
British Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened, saying that
pursuing the inquiry could jeopardise national security.
U.S. authorities also have investigated UK-headquartered
BAE, the Pentagon's No. 5 supplier by sales, for alleged
corruption in a 1980s British arms deal with Saudi Arabia valued
at up to $85 billion.
The U.S. Justice Department typically coordinates with
foreign governments in cases involving allegations of wrongdoing
by countries headquartered on their soil.
(Reporting by John Bowker; Editing by Rupert Winchester)