* SFO spokesman says keen on “quick resolution”
* BAE says investigation is still ongoing
By John Bowker and Paul Hoskins
LONDON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - 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 Reuters.
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 unlikely.
“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)