First ever criminal case is brought during corruption investigations into British weapons manufacturer, which began more than five years ago after disclosures in the Guardian
One of BAE’s former confidential agents, Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, was today charged by the Serious Fraud Office with bribery over arms deals. He was remanded in custody in London.
It is the first ever criminal case brought during long-running corruption investigations into the British weapons manufacturer, which began more than five years ago after disclosures in the Guardian.
However, in an unusual turn of events, the attorney general, Lady Scotland, has not yet agreed to let the case proceed. David Huw Williams QC, for the SFO, told Highbury Corner magistrates court that the case should be adjourned for a month while she decided.
The charges were formally brought by the SFO director, Richard Alderman.
Because the charges have been brought under the 1906 Corruption Act, Lady Scotland can halt the case before it reaches trial. A bribery bill is currently going through parliament but has not yet become law.
*The SFO was prevented from investigating allegations of BAE corruption in Saudi Arabia. Tony Blair, then prime minister, intervened on the grounds the probe was displeasing the Saudi royal family, and a threat to British “national security”.
The move to lay charges was “an operational decision by the director of the SFO”, Scotland’s office spokesman said.
The SFO said the count was charged with conspiracy to give corrupt payments between 2002 and 2008 to agents and officials of central European governments “as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of … Saab/Gripen fighter jets by BAE Systems plc”.
Mensdorff-Pouilly, who has purchased a sporting estate at Dalnaglar Castle, Perthshire, was charged after an international investigation, the SFO said. Those involved in the inquiry included the ministry of defence, police in London, Viennese police and prosecutors, and the Europe-wide prosecutors’ group Eurojust.
The charges follow the SFO announcement last year that it intended to bring a criminal prosecution against BAE for alleged bribery in central Europe and Africa if the attorney general agreed. There was then a prolonged delay while the SFO made further inquiries.
The move to pursue BAE with criminal charges followed the breakdown of talks aimed at a US-style plea bargain under which the firm would have pleaded guilty to certain offences and paid a large fine. No charges have yet been brought against BAE or any of its employees. BAE said last night the firm could not comment in view of criminal proceedings.