U.S. consolidates alleged arms bribery cases

WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) - A U.S. grand jury has issued a superseding indictment against 22 arms executives accusing them of a single conspiracy to bribe someone they believed was an African minister but was instead a government sting operation, according to court papers filed on Monday.

The new indictment consolidates 16 separate cases against the 22 weapons dealers, including one executive from Smith & Wesson Holding Corp SWHC.O. Prosecutors had said they were part of one conspiracy but charged them separately for convenience.

That prompted the judge to question whether the case should be consolidated, but he also warned it would be impossible to conduct a single trial with all 22 defendants simultaneously.

To address the judge’s concerns, prosecutors said on Monday a grand jury had returned a superseding indictment accusing the 22 individuals of a conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices act and a conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors also proposed on Monday to break up the trial into four groups of defendants.

“These groupings reflect a reasonable approach to managing this case through trial and one that is consistent with the fair administration of justice,” prosecutors said in a 3-page proposal to the court.

One defendant already plans to plead guilty and prosecutors have also said that there could be more.

While many of those charged worked for different companies, the common theme running through the indictments is that they all believed they were bribing an African defense minister as part of a $15 million business deal.

However, the deals instead were part of an unprecedented undercover operation to uncover violations of the FCPA law which makes it illegal to bribe a foreign government official to win business.

The cases are in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Nos. 09-335 through 09-350.

Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Richard Chang